Nonprofit expands impact through SVP

Dear MSAF,

Thank you to all of your members! Your matching contribution helps to strengthen nonprofits like Summer Search and supports nonprofit leaders like Deidre Martin McCormack. As the Executive Director, Deidre is a passionate advocate for Summer Search’s mission, but last year she found herself frustrated by its lack of visibility. Very few people had heard the name Summer Search, and even if they had, they didn’t really know what the organization was about.

That’s where Seattle Venture Partner volunteer Sam Neukom came in. “From the beginning it was clear how much experience she had,” recalls Deidre of Sam’s brand and marketing background. “She had all these ideas and she was excited and engaged because she was already a donor to Summer Search and really loved our mission.”

Working with staff, board members and students, Sam and fellow community volunteer Deb Agrin uncovered the essence of Summer Search. They turned the focus from what the organization does to why it matters — resulting in a stickier pitch. They created “handles” that made it easy for staff and board members to remember the messages, and used fun “speed-dating” exercises to increase their comfort and confidence with the new language.

“Before this project, I would have said something like: ‘Summer Search is a youth development program, blah, blah, blah…’ People’s eyes just glazed over,” explains Deidre.

Now?  Deidre starts with why it matters:

“There are a lot of low-income students who have potential, but they don’t have access to opportunities or resources to realize that potential. Because of that, only 10% of low-income students graduate from college. We think that’s abysmal. Summer Search changes that. Here’s how…”

This may seem like semantics, but it actually makes a huge difference.

“I know why I’m here,” says Deidre, “but if I can’t accurately convey why we’re here to you, then it doesn’t matter, because I’m not going to be able to bring you in, and make this work carry on. No money, no mission.”

This spring, Summer Search had their most successful fundraising event ever. Their goal was $250k. They raised $330k. “I used the messaging on the podium,” says Deidre.  “I used the messaging in the video. And after the event, I didn’t hear one question from anyone that I followed up with about ‘what do you guys do?’

“In the past, I would sit down for coffee with people who have been coming to our events for 5 years, and they would say something vague like: ‘so…you guys do summer programs…’ I think people get it quicker, now: ‘You’re about college for low-income kids’ — because we’re starting with that … And it’s more compelling.”

The messaging work did more than support Summer Search’s fundraising efforts, however. “For the board and staff, it helped clarify why we’re doing this work, and what we need to focus on.”

Deidre took the messaging to Summer Search’s national meeting and shared it in a marketing session with staff, board members, and donors from around the country. They loved it.  And the end of the session Sasha Kovriga, one of Summer Search’s first participants back in 1990, walked up to her. The son of Russian immigrants, Sasha is now a successful investment banker, board member, and Summer Search champion. “He looked at me and said: ‘Deidre, in the 20 years that I have been involved with this program, I have not known how to talk about it. And now, I do.'”

“I think Sam and Deb nailed it,” continues Deidre.  “They captured the essence of why we’re here and what we’re doing.”

So what comes next?  This project was actually just the first of three to help increase Summer Search’s visibility. In the next two, Summer Search and Sam will identify likely audiences that they are not yet reaching, and develop a plan to reach those audiences in the hopes of taking their work to the next level.

Why? Because with greater visibility and support Summer Search can help more students like Regina.

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SVP volunteer provides bridge to efficiency

Dear Janet, David, and Paul,

Thank you for your contributions to SVP during the Microsoft Alumni Foundation event! We are so grateful for your generosity and your unwavering commitment to SVP over the years. 

Since you are so intimately involved with SVP, we wanted to share a story you haven’t heard before.  This one comes from Tré, the Executive Director of Powerful Schools.

I would have to say that this past year our work with SVP most impacted our internal technology capacities and systems. Last year we highlighted our work in marketing and messaging. This year we moved from focusing on how we “look on the outside” to improving the systems we rely on to “operate on the inside,” in other words, expanding capacity at the deepest layers of what actually gives us ability to do our work – our technology.

No matter how strong of a strategic plan we have in place, without the proper technology and systems to support the work, the strategic plan is inoperable. I cannot understate how important growing our technology capacity has positively impacted our ability to achieve our outcomes. Often, a non-profit our size does not have the resources, in-house staff expertise, and/or equipment to keep pace with the growing needs of the organization.

For example, our new assessment framework relies on our ability to increase the frequency of our program monitoring and track more real-time student progress. This requires the proper technology platform that supports rigorous data outcomes management and the ability to access info quickly and efficiently. Technology also plays a role in the recruitment of top talent. Aging technology that is not able to fully support the growing demands of the organization, not only increases costs and reduces effectiveness, it also affects employee morale and the recruitment of top talent.

We went really deep with our technology work this year, taking on a project that included:

  • A technology assessment and review on every machine and our server
  • Purchasing new and retiring old machines
  • Updating each staff workstation with the latest Windows software (some stations were still running on Windows XP, which was released in 2001)
  • Virus vulnerability assessments and protection updates
  • Assessing computer speed levels on every machine (including troubleshooting slower machines)
  • Guidance on setting up the wiring and technology in our new office
  • Migrating our emails and all user accounts (16) to the cloud and training the staff on the new system
  • Assistance with cleaning up and migrating years of files from the p:drive to the cloud
  • Decommissioning our aging server to a dedicated NAS (network attached storage) – reducing costs by thousands of dollars

The stellar volunteer who accomplished all of this was of course, Kevin Phaup! His initial project was to do a technology assessment. The initial project grew to become several, much needed projects. This was in part because the severe state of our technology that turned out to be in worse shape than I anticipated, and because of Kevin’s enthusiasm for the work of Powerful Schools.

Kevin has simply been amazing to work with! In addition to providing pertinent assistance, guidance, and staff training, the results of his work has greatly increased the capacity of Powerful Schools and even greatly increased employee morale (imagine discovering Windows 7 or a faster computer). In addition, he documented much of his process, which allows us to continue the ongoing work of maintaining our technology, with some assistance from our tech maintenance company.

All of these technology projects would have cost us thousands of dollars to do on our own and we simply do not have the resources or staff time to invest in the level of work that Kevin provided us. I am convinced that without Kevin’s guidance, the technology costs associated with our move would have been far greater, as well. Focusing the bulk of our year on our technology has positioned Powerful Schools well into the 21st Century with the framework to support our strategy, staff, and goals for years to come.

– Tré, Executive Director of Powerful Schools

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