Innovate, Create, Iterate: A nonprofit COVID-19 survival strategy

Innovate, Create, Iterate: A nonprofit COVID-19 survival strategy

April 15, 2020
41 minutes

Sarah Lee · Chief Growth Officer, New Story | Here's where you ask the question, "How can my nonprofit make it through the Coronavirus crisis?" Justin and Sarah are here to give you hope with New Story's story of innovation, growth, and their humble pursuit of excellence. Your nonprofit can make it through this crisis with innovative survival strategies.


When Sarah Lee, told Funraise CEO Justin Wheeler, "Bold ideas attract bold people," she was talking to the right person. As an experienced fundraiser and nonprofiteer used to swinging for the fences, Justin constantly champions innovation above all.

And now, with COVID-19 affecting economies across the globe, nonprofits everywhere are asking the question, "How can my nonprofit make it through the Coronavirus crisis?"

Listen in on Justin and Sarah's interview and then brainstorm with the experts in a live Q&A session directly afterward.


Justin Wheeler: Sara, thank you so much for joining us for this episode of Nonstop Nonprofit. I'm really excited for this episode. I've been following New Story for a long time and so really excited to kind of dig in and talk to you about what innovation means in the nonprofit sector. So thank you so much for joining today.

Sarah Lee: Hey, I'm so excited to be here. I feel like it's a time where lots of people are figuring out innovation. We all are looking at new and different ways to innovate. So it'll be fun to talk about some of the bigger concepts as well as the smaller ones.

Justin Wheeler: Yeah, absolutely. I think that this episode couldn't come at a better time, just given how nonprofits are really forcing to pivot a lot of their strategy in 2020 as a result of COVID-19. So I'm excited to really dove in, before we jump into some of the questions I'd love if you could just introduce yourself, and your role at New Story and then tell us more about what New Story does.

Sarah Lee: Yeah, for sure. So I am the Chief Growth Officer at New Story and I have been on the team for a little bit over three years and when I started, I was focused more on the donor experience. And then I took over kind of all brand and marketing. And now we have brought our brand as well as our fundraising together in one team. And so at a traditional organization, of course, that would be sales and marketing together. And so for us, that's fundraising and marketing. So really it's everything from high net worth donors to individual donors, events, PR and kind of everything in between is the team that I get help lead. So it's a lot of fun, New Story as a whole we focus on pioneering solutions to end global homelessness. And so for us, that looks like processes,  hardware, software and of course, actually building communities across Haiti, El Salvador, Bolivia and Mexico are the countries that we work in today.

Justin Wheeler: Awesome. So tell us a little bit more about how big is this global homelessness problem. Just help us understand kind of the magnitude of what you guys are trying to solve.

Sarah Lee: Yeah, for sure. So it's about a billion-person problem today and that issue is growing, a lot of experts say, by almost 20% year over year. And so it is a massive problem to start with, but especially as we look at climate change and city density in all of these changes happening around the world, that number is just going up exponentially. We joke a lot of times internally that it's also one of the most expensive interventions. Right. When you think about a lot of health interventions or water or food, obviously insanely important, but much cheaper interventions. And so when we look at this problem, it's not just a problem of the number of people who need it, but also the cost and complexity of that intervention. That is something that we're really focused on as well.

Justin Wheeler: That's a super interesting point I was actually at a dinner recently where they were talking about pragmatic philanthropy. And basically what they meant by this was that if you know, if you are a true philanthropist, the actual cause doesn't really matter to you. It should be like what's the most kind of return for my dollar? And homelessness came up actually in conversation saying that's such a big problem, it's so expensive to solve. Like, you know, why would you invest in, like, putting someone in a home or solving the problem when you can, you know, send a billion mosquito nets, you know, around the world and save tens of thousands of kids and so forth. So I imagine that that's something that you guys face, as you mentioned. So how your donors interact with or how do you overcome that obstacle as an organization and your fundraising efforts? Given that it's an expensive mission and problem to solve?

Sarah Lee: I think for us from day one, one of the biggest pieces has been the transparency around it. And so we use 100% model, as you know, more and more nonprofits are starting to use. And so when a donor, you know, gives to homes for us, they know exactly where that money is going. Right. And so I think with problems that are so complex, a lot of times people get lost in not being able to really touch and feel and understand exactly what they're giving to. And so we show donors, the exact family that their donation is impacting. The homes, of course, range in costs, but kind of average $8,000-$10,000 for a home. So it's also an achievable price point for people, whether that's individually or crowdfunding, not together. So people we have found really connect to the idea of seeing who they're helping and really kind of understanding how that breaks down. And so I think it's definitely whether people are making the decision consciously or not. I do think it is a subconscious decision for people. Right, with how complex and expensive and all of those things. And so from a fundraising side, especially, we just try to really make it tangible for people. Understanding I am feeding a family for a day is relatively easy to understand versus $200 vs. homelessness. What does that actually mean? So by showing them the family, by really breaking down the home costs by them knowing 100% of that is going straight to the building, I think are some of the biggest ways that we've really seen people be able to latch onto it and understand the impact and really get behind supporting it.

Justin Wheeler: Yeah. Let's talk a little bit about that, some of that fundraising, the strategy behind it. So I think the last report I saw, New Story is around $10 million in annual revenues - is that about right? And your guys are growing, I think if you look at the last three years, you guys are growing at like several hundred percent every year. So growing very fast. What have been the fundraising channels that have led to that growth and where are you guys seeing traction today?

Sarah Lee: I'll talk about maybe a couple different concepts that I think have been really helpful for us. I think the biggest one that everybody knows, but thinking about what it looks like in practice is a little bit harder is giving people a reason, like a why for joining us and really understanding what is their role within that has been super, super valuable for our organization and for our donors. And so I think we've seen a lot of nonprofits move away from guilt-based fundraising, which I think we can all agree is a "yay", that's a good thing. But we have seen really I think a lot of our growth in empowering people to really join us on it. Right. And so we have an idea or a concept we talk about a lot internally and that's this idea that bold ideas attract bold people. And so we are continually trying to look at what is the next bold idea and how can we invite people into that dream with us. And so I think our donors have been really attracted to being able to join something that they're not getting elsewhere. Nobody's asking them for kind of the same level of commitment, whether that's a dollars or actually getting their advice on things. And so I think where most people are just like we want X dollars because that funds, you know, 50 children doing X, Y and Z. And that can be a really powerful model. But for us, it's been more of how do we make big asks of people to do really bold and innovative things and that attracts a certain type of person and also repels a certain type of person. And that's OK. You know, it's OK that everybody doesn't want to invest in, you know, technology for nonprofits and all of that kind of stuff. But for us finding, you know, our people within that has been really helpful.

I would say another piece of that is we're not afraid to make big asks. The CEO of Donors Choose a couple of years ago had this email that circulated that, I think the first line of it was something like, "I hope you don't mind me swinging for the fences". And he was like making a huge ask of somebody. And so that has become a mantra internally, right? It's like, OK, what are we doing that's swinging for the fences when it comes to fundraising? And for us, we have found people, they're like flattered by you making a big ask of them. Right. And they're flattered by inviting them into that. And so, you know, letting the donor really be the hero and not being scared to let them be the hero, I think has been, you know, another really beneficial concept for us as well.

Justin Wheeler: I really like that approach. I mean, it all lines like really nicely in the sense of, like you mentioned, we have a big vision, we have bold ideas and so we have big asks. You casting a very large and lofty vision and you want to attract people that like want to chase that vision with you guys. And I love what you said about, you know, repels some people and that's OK. Like you, I think a lot of times nonprofits try to attract everyone. They look at like everyone as like their ideal donor. When the reality is the ideal donor looks very different for each organization based on the cause, based on the approach, based on the brand and strategy. So I love that that's something that you guys really hone in and focus on. It's like we're gonna go for the people that are ideal for us. They're going to join, but we're not gonna, you know, cast a wider net.

Sarah Lee: And I think that's even true in specific programs. Right. I think that we have seen our donors who contribute to our operation expenses is a very different type of donor than the donor who gets on our website and gives $200. And that doesn't mean one is more important than the other. But as you know, a leader and somebody trying to attract the right people, it's really important to know how do those different audience segment into the different places of your organization and how are you communicating well with them according to who they are and what they care about?

Justin Wheeler: Yes, that's a great point. One of the things that leads your guys is fundraising efforts is like the why, explaining that why very well to your donor base and to your audience. And you guys have arguably one of the best brands, you know, and I wouldn't say even just in the nonprofit space, I think across companies guys have a very solid brand. Your why is very direct, it's very specific. You land on your site and you know what it is you guys are doing, what you care about and how to get involved. So many nonprofits struggle with that concept, it seems simple. So how have you guys at New Story made it such a big priority? And what's your process kind of behind defining that why and ensuring that your audience is following?

Sarah Lee: I will start with maybe a piece of encouragement for everyone. I think it always feels worse to you, right? So if you were like, hey, how clearly do you think you are on your why? I would probably say, like, man, like we still struggle with it. And we still try to do exercises and talk about how we can make it more clear and all of those things. And so I want to start with kind of everybody's probably the harshest critic of their own work. And so if you are thinking about, you know, your own work at your nonprofit, you're like, we're just really hitting the mark. You may be doing better than you think you are. I would say organizationally kind of our brand as a whole. And so for us, a lot of people, when they say brand, it's like, is that a logo? Right. Is that a piece of design? When we say brand, it's really like it's the iceberg, right. It's what you see at the top. That is beautiful design and great videos and all of that kind of stuff. But it's really a lot of the stuff that is under the surface as well. Right. What are the emotions we want people to feel when they come to our website? How responsive are we? What are email signatures look like? Right.

All of these other things that maybe aren't the biggest priority, but really add up to give people just a level of excellence. And so our co-founders, when they started the organization, were very just focused on what they would expect, whether it was a nonprofit or not. Right. I think a lot at times nonprofits, unfortunately, are not held to the same standards as a for-profit business that you would give your money to. And so we continually have just pushed ourselves and our team to really live up to that standard and live up to being able to give people an experience that they want to tell other people about and that they want to keep coming back for. And so, you know, one of our core values is humble pursuit of excellence. And it's this idea that, it doesn't mean everything is going to be perfect. I would definitely say internally and externally, I hope that we never come across as an organization that things feel perfect. Right. But it is that pursuit of getting to excellence and to continually trying to make things better. I would say is a big one that we're constantly looking at things. Right. We put something out to the world and then we're always getting feedback from people and figuring out how can we make it better? What do we need to refine? How can we make that a practice that is continual within our brand and within our fundraising and within our work on the ground? Right. It's all of it so that things are consistently improving.

Justin Wheeler: On the fundraising side is there any one specific strategy or channel that you guys have like doubled-down on whether it's last year going into 2020? Is there something specific or a strategy that you're like this is really working for us, we want to keep going with it and invest more into it. Is there anything in particular that stands out or is it pretty kind of vast in regards to what you guys are doing on the fundraising side?

Sarah Lee: I could definitely give one example that comes to mind off the top of my head that I think might be helpful for people. And so as I mentioned in the beginning, our fundraising is split, right. So people are either fundraising to our operations or to homebuilding. And so our operations funding has always been on three-year cycles. So when somebody makes a commitment, they're making a commitment for three years. And at the beginning of 2019, we realized how beneficial that had been for us. Of course, from a cash flow perspective and forecasting and all of those things. And we realized we were really missing the mark by not trying that on our home side as well. And so over the last nine months, we have created a new program that is specific to home sponsors and that is sponsoring a home on a recurring year basis as well.

So it's people making three-year commitments on the homebuilding side as well. And so that is one of those kind of little things that we've really doubled down on over the last really, nine months, and that people have been really attracted to. Right. Because we already have a lot of donors who do fund a home every year. But because there was no commitment or program for them on both sides, expectations, and experience, were just not where they needed it to be. And so really wrapping a brand and a process around that allowed our fundraising team to really feel like they had something to take to people. Of course, from a financial perspective, it's really helpful for us as well. Building communities, as you can imagine, takes quite a long time. And so knowing at the beginning of the year that we already have X number of homes and communities committed to is really helpful also to decrease that timeline and be able to get families in homes faster.

Justin Wheeler: Yeah, that's awesome. It's like a monthly dinner program, but on steroids, a bigger, larger amount and more commitment in terms of the long, long haul. That's awesome. That's really cool to hear. It sounds very similar to like a normal sales process where you sign up a customer and you try to get them on a contract as long as you make sense. There's really not too much of a difference there. I love that. One question I wanted to ask about your guys, the 100% model. So how has it been for New Story as it relates to growth? Because I've heard you know, I've talked to charity:water about this. I've talked to other organizations, when I was running a nonprofit that we actually used the same model, 100%. I'm curious if you've ever felt like it stunted growth or if it's been the opposite for you guys, because obviously, like, you can only invest in the infrastructure and overhead to the point of, you know, how much operational funding you have. I imagine it's easier to raise funds for houses than it is for, you know, salaries and technology. So how has that been for you guys managing growth, being a high growth, fast, you know, nonprofit? Like, how has that been for you guys on the fundraising side?

Sarah Lee: You know, when we say pioneering solutions to end global homelessness, that means that we invest a lot in innovation. And so specifically the most capital intensive innovations are on the hardware and software side. And so for us, the 100% model has been not just helpful, but truly vital because we do invest so much on the innovation side. It would be way irresponsible for us to just be taking any people's donations. Right. And splitting that up to put capital expenses into things like helping develop this 3D printer. Right. That prints homes, it was a big risk. And so having the operational expenses separated really helps us take those risks, right? Risks that we would never be comfortable taking if we were accountable to every donor for those risks. But instead, it's for us, it's 54 families who do all of our operational expenses. And so we really can bring them into that decision making process to make sure that we're making the wisest decisions. And so it's really been helpful on both sides.

On the home side, we think it has allowed us to raise more money there because people really understand it. They trust it more. They know exactly where it's going. And then on the operational side, of course, it's a specific type of donor. It's not for every person, but for the people we have found on that side, the people who are really attracted to this idea of high leverage innovation and, you know, the leverage really that their donation is making. It's been really impactful. Now, the asterisk, I will say on that, especially given where we are right now, is pretty much all nonprofits right now are going through their budget line by line and going all right, we need to cut that, we need to pause on this, we need to postpone this, all of those things. And so, you know, our CEO and myself last week were sitting in a room laughing, going, man if we didn't have this 100% model, this pool of money would be a lot bigger, that we could figure things out with right now. And so I won't say it comes with no challenges, but so for us, it's definitely been more helpful.

Justin Wheeler: Got it. Cool. Thanks for sharing that. That was really helpful. All right. So it's clear that you guys have been innovative on the fundraising side. I mean, I think you can't grow as fast as you guys have grown without trying new things and without, you know, being innovative on that side. You guys are also incredibly innovative on the program side. So you mentioned this 3D printer. I believe you guys built the first or printed the first community of homes for the problems that you're solving. Can you talk to us about, before we get into specifically, you know, the kind of how it all happens? How it all works? It's like who came up with this idea? How did you guys you know, were you guys just sitting around happy hour talking about wouldn't it be really cool if we could print homes, talk to us about like where did this idea come from? How did you create a plan to execute on actually going through with it?

Sarah Lee: So you are not too far off from reality with that picture that you painted there. So, you know, New Story when we were just, you know, building homes. So we're about five years old as an organization, I don't think I mentioned that in the beginning, but our first really two, two and half years was just how do we build more homes, right. Thus, how do we raise more money? And so I think that's where the kind of fundraising innovation came in is just, man we've got to raise more money to build more homes. And so we've got to figure out how to do this better, different, with better ROI on everything. On the flip side are kind of in parallel to that, Alexandria, who leads our on the ground ops team has always been very focused on increasing quality while decreasing speed and cost as well. And so organizationally we have always done like moonshot sessions, right? That is us just sitting around with a drink after meetings and talking about what our big crazy idea is. Right. And so sometimes they spur into nothing and sometimes they spur into the world's first 3D printed community.

And so we, you know, we're just talking about man 3D printing. How crazy is that? Wouldn't it be so cool if we could just press a button and then all of a sudden homes exist? And so I think we all left that session not saying like, all right, that's what we're moving forward with as an organization. But that was one of the ideas that our team had in their heads and started just kind of kicking around and talking to different people about. And so coming out of that, our CEO was connected with a company that was just thinking about getting started in 3D printing of homes. And there was a ton of shared vision for what the future could be like if we could 3D print homes. And so that is a for-profit company called Icon. And so we partnered with them on this printer. And so in 2018 we unveiled the first permitted 3D printed home. And so that was printed in Austin, Texas, and unveiled at SXSW two years ago. And then that's correct, the end of last year, we unveiled the first community in Mexico. And so kind of where the innovation comes from, I would say, it's definitely in the DNA of the organization figuring out how does innovation play within your work. And yes, specific to 3D printing, it was as one of those just crazy ideas that more and more dots started being connected. And at first we thought there were a lot of problems with it. Right. At first, it was not like we're definitely going to do this. It was like, well, what about local labor? What about all of these other things? And the more we learned, the more we were just proven that it actually could be a viable solution for us. And so we're able to give it a whirl and it's up and running now.

Justin Wheeler: That's amazing. I love it because it's you know, I mean, obviously, there's a way to build homes. And, you know, the first couple of years, like the thought processes, alright we need to raise, you know, the way to like do more is to raise more. And then you guys start to think about, well, OK, well, how do we become more efficient and effective? How do we build more homes faster, maybe it costs more or maybe it doesn't. But we're trying to get more people in homes, essentially. Right. Like, that's the end game. And so it led you down this path. So is it the future of what you guys are going to be focusing on? Is printing going to be the like solution that solves global homelessness? Like how big of a revelation has this been for your organization and where are you guys going with it over the next several years?

Sarah Lee: Our kind of whole model organizationally is focused on this idea of create, prove, share. So create is, of course, like it's an idea. Let's figure out how to make it. Prove is let's actually put it in our communities, use it in our work, make sure it actually works. And then share is the idea that as we talked about, a billion people are impacted by this problem and we are not naive enough to think that we are going to solve that problem alone. And so share is really how do we put this in the hands of more nonprofits and governments and everyone else who is focused on this problem. Right, so that we can all build more homes, faster, cheaper and at a higher quality. And so 3D printing is one of the examples of that and it's currently in the prove category. Right. And so with that first community, we're still learning a lot.

So we organizationally definitely are excited about continuing to do more communities with the 3D printer. Our partner Icon, you know, all the time is improving the technology and the speed and all of these things. We are not, you know, switching all of our construction to that at this point. We don't think that that would be a great option for us because we do want to continue to see what happens long term. Right. How much can we get the cost down? What actually is the speed when we start scaling this out to 100 homes at a time and all of that. So we're still very much in infancy and there is about 15 homes completed in Mexico. And that community, you know, is continuing on. So excited to learn a lot more in the coming years on 3D printing and how it's going to impact our sector as a whole.

Justin Wheeler: I love your guys' process in rolling out something new. You know, it's I mean, one it's super transparent. And it also, you know, it has a, I think you mentioned one of the values of being like humble. What was it? Humble in pursuit of excellence, where it says like hey we've got this big audacious idea. It might work, it might not. And so we have this process, this framework that we run things through to ensure that is not just this like crazy idea that's going to fail big and hard, but we're going to put it through a process, a framework. We did something when I was running Liberty in North Korea, we did something very similar with our rescue program. So we helped basically smuggle North Korean refugees out of China into Southeast Asia, it's a 3,000-mile journey.

And we developed software, we call it the rescue app, to basically help monitor just the effectiveness of the missions, to log things like security checkpoints, you know, border crossings. And in some cases, we even use it as transparency for donors who are funding like entire missions. But in the early days, obviously, I mean, you know, for us, like failing on a rescue could cost people their lives because it's illegal for North Koreans to leave. They could get sent back, I'm not going to go into history but it's life or death for many of these people. So we didn't take that lightly and we did a lot of trial runs. You know, without actual North Koreans at first, understanding the lay of the land. We worked with people across multiple countries who had experience in this. And we started testing slowly with just a few people at a time. And then once we had the actual framework together and we knew that we could scale it. Then we started scaling. We started fundraising for it. And over the last, you know, five years, Liberty in North Korea is responsible for over 1,000 rescues. So I think that the point in sharing that is, something that you guys have honed in on, and I think so many more nonprofits could grab that and learn from this is just because a program or an idea seems promising, put it through the wringer first. Really ensure that it's actually going to be effective. And sure, you know, think about all these different contexts. I loved you talked about like local labor, like how does this impact local labor? Are we actually gonna be doing harm to the local economy if we bring in this, like innovations, all these things to think about. Do you have a team? How do you guys go through that process? The framework exists? But how do you like shove ideas through that framework? What's the team that does that? Who's responsible for it?

Sarah Lee: Yeah. Great question. So Alexandia, who is our COO and really leads our operations team on the ground, is really who helps most kind of point us to which ideas are actually going to have the biggest impact on the ground. And so our two kind of other ones that are actually in the share category now. So they've made it all the way through and have proven themselves. One is just a design process and this is our process for involving families in the communities before we knew a piece of dirt. Right. And so it's not operating under the assumption that we know what they need or what's best for them, but how do we really bring them into that process in a meaningful way.

And so other organizations can, you know, take that framework and its workbooks and teacher guides and all of those things to really be able to run that for themselves. And then a mobile serving tool that works online and offline, that really is kind of an impact data tool. And so that tool is called Felix. And so now that tool is used by a lot of other nonprofits and governments as well and is growing. And so all of our teams kind of all the time had these oh, what if we had this that would help impact our work. Right. So Alexandria, as the person who really leads what's on the ground, helps serve as the filter and then start to bring in other teams from there. So on the flip side, one of the innovations that's in the create section right now is a repayments tool. So our operations team was having a lot of trouble. We run repayments in some of our communities. So families are paying back a portion of the home costs that's going into a community fund. And so as you can imagine, and in the areas that we work, actually managing those repayments was really, really complicated. And so the team was able to surface that idea.

And then together our tech team and are on the ground operations team were able to come up with what is an MVP for this. So to your point about how do we test this small and see if it's actually going to make a difference. And so they started that. And so now they're building the tool out from there. So it's not one specific person. It's definitely a group of people and kind of all of the teams coming together to think about what's actually feasible. How can we do a pilot of this to actually see what the impact is going to be and how do we leverage it from there? And then within the last year, we brought somebody on our team, Julianna, who is our head of R&D. And so she today is who oversees trying to find new partners, new collaborators to really work with, to bring some different innovations to our work.

Justin Wheeler: That's awesome. That's amazing. A lot of questions that I've been getting from people has been related to well, like what we do doesn't specifically relate to, it's not a first responder. It doesn't relate to COVID-19. So like, is it insensitive to be fundraising right now, so I wanted to ask that question. What is your guys' approach been in this environment? How have, if at all, have you tied your guys working to, you know, the effects of COVID-19, maybe share a little bit, how you guys have approached the fundraising landscape as a result of the environment we're in today?

Sarah Lee: I will be super transparent to start that one. I have been struggling with the same thing. Right. I think we all look at the communities around us and the news and people we know and all of those things and see more than ever before so many needs that we are all grappling with. How is my need and my organizations need more important than any of these other ones? And so I think that it's OK that we don't all have the answers to how that fits in together. So our kind of, I'll back up a half a step, our kind of first response in the very beginning was like just lean really, really hard on empathy. Right. And so in the first two weeks of kind of everything with COVID-19 really surfacing in the US. We weren't making asks of people, we were really focused on just like how is your family doing? How's the transition? Where are you guys right now? All of those things. In the last week we have shifted to focusing on existing donors. So today our fundraising team is not spending a lot of their time or energy on total net new donors. Really in a kind of knowing that this season there are a lot of unknowns and feeling like at this exact moment that for us, that doesn't feel like the most respectful thing to do.

Now, that may change at any moment in time. But for us at this second, that's kind of where we've chosen to do our focus is on our existing donors. And so for them New Story, of course, people are understanding the importance of homes more than ever before. There is a lot of really powerful articles that have been done recently about how to use social distance when you live in a slum. Right. How do you social distance when you are in a makeshift home with eight people that you live with and they're all connected to each other? And so, so many vulnerable communities not having access to the same shelter and safety that we do. And so in the coming weeks, we are working on how are we balancing the severity of the need closest to where people are with also the deep, deep belief that home is what's going to solve this for a lot of people long term, whether that's a pandemic or a natural disaster or everyday life. And so really just not rushing to try to get things out quickly and do the land grab or anything like that, but be really thoughtful with pulling together that whole message, show people really understand it and hopefully have the same belief in it that we do. And then in the meantime, like I said, really focusing on existing donors who already believe in the mission, supporting us through this time as well.

Justin Wheeler: Got it. Thank you. That's super helpful. And to kind of piggyback on that. The other challenge and this is not necessarily related to COVID-19. But it's just a challenge that I think a lot of nonprofits have is, it really boils down to like storytelling. It's just a lot of organizations are like our cause or our issue just isn't as compelling as, you know, X, Y, and Z. And so do you have any tips for nonprofits who are struggling with that? They feel like, the problem that they're solving, it's hard to fundraise for because, you know, it's either complex or it's not compelling. It's not like feeding, you know, a starving kid. You don't have like that, you know, initial, like, visceral reaction. What do you guys do to stay in front of your donors, to stay relevant and to make it compelling?

Sarah Lee: Day one, definitely to start with is really focusing on the empathy side, right? And so I think that if it's figuring out where it fits into the person you're talking to, where it fits into their kind of hierarchy of needs. Right. And how they view the need within that. I think leaning on the side of really trying to understand where they're coming from in the conversation and what else they may have going on in their life, that they can connect the need to a little better. So COVID related example in the kind of first days of everything, you know, really getting intense here in the States. We had our brand team shift focus to make a marketing video that was really just focused on like the human connection in the world right now. And we had a lot of people who were like, what's your call to action going to be at the end and what landing page are you driving them to? And all of this. And we said we actually don't want any of that. We just want a video to be able to send to people to remind them of our human connection right now and remind them of the importance of home and how that is such a resource for people right now and really can drive kind of this kindness in each other. And so being comfortable with knowing that people may be coming from a different mindset and leaning into that.

I would also just say that I think so often as nonprofit professionals, we feel like we have to have all the answers for how our problem serves our audiences' needs right. One of our other values is improve through learning and feedback. And so we are the first ones to have an idea, but not really sure how it will translate to donors to get them on the phone. Right. And ask them like, hey, we're talking about X, Y, and Z. Does that make sense to you? What in what I just said resonated most, you know, or just talking through something and then saying, all right, say that back to me, how you understood it and seeing what are the pieces that they actually resonate with. Right. And that they're attracted to, because so often what got, you know, any of us into this profession and into the organization that we work with is deeply personal. And so you're not gonna know that for the person on the other side of the table, screen or anything in between those two. And so bringing them into the conversation to help you with that, I think is a really powerful tool that a lot of people overlook because they may think it makes them look like they don't have the answers or they don't fully know. But the fact of the matter is, you don't, right, so you have to lean on being able to learn from other people.

Justin Wheeler: I think too like that what that shows in your guys' case, and the reason why you guys are able to do that is because you've essentially married brand and fundraising. Right. And they're on the same team because like a lot of what you're talking about is, it's very like brand-centric. It's like, you know, how do donors think about us, feel about us when they see New Story? And if you just let fundraiser's kind of like go at it, like they're always going to be asking, they're always going to be making these appeals. And I love that, like the combination of brand and fundraising, because that really is creating, it's setting up for an ask, you know, down the road. You're planting this seed of like this is what we care about as a nonprofit, you're front and center and when that donors are ready to give, they're going to think of you. Right. So I just love that marriage and I think if more nonprofits can combine their marketing and fundraising, their brand and fundraising teams, that's like a super practical, you know, understanding of the effectiveness of it could have for a nonprofit organization.

Sarah Lee: And I think so much of that intersection really is just the reminder that, like, we're all just humans, right? Yeah. And we overcomplicate it sometimes with like these analytics report and the data told us we have to talk like X, Y, and Z and we have to do all of this stuff. Right. But just asking yourself like, what would I want if I was on the other side of this conversation, I think is a really powerful question that both brand and fundraising teams don't ask themselves enough. And if they do ask themselves, they might be too scared to actually implement. I'm not going to read this, you know, 10 paragraph response that you're sending me. I want some bullets because I'm busy and I have other things going on and all of that. So, yeah, my kind of final words of things for the people to think about in that would just be that. Remember that it's just humans. Right? And so incorporating that in your work I think will never serve people poorly.

Justin Wheeler: I love that. That's great that's a great reminder. Well, thank you so much, Sarah, for joining us today and sharing your story and just giving us some of your time to help other nonprofits and their journey towards becoming more innovative, becoming better fundraisers, and end with the focus on, you know, what makes all those things work in conjunction. And so thank you for your thoughts today. Really appreciate your time.

Sarah Lee: So happy to be here. It's definitely something that I think we're all in this together. And so being able to learn from each other, I think is just one of the most valuable things that ultimately is going to impact more people and a lot of causes around the globe. So thanks so much for having me.

Justin Wheeler: Absolutely. Thank you. Have a good day.

Sarah Lee: Thanks.

Thanks for listening to this episode of Nonstop Nonprofit. This podcast is brought to you by your friends at Funraise. Nonprofit fundraising software, built by nonprofit people. If you'd like to continue the conversation, find me on LinkedIn or text me at 562-242-8160. And don't forget to get your next episode the second it hits the internet. Go to and sign up for email notifications today. See you next time!