Tune up your revenue engine with Big Brothers Big Sisters

Tune up your revenue engine with Big Brothers Big Sisters

August 26, 2021
50 minutes
EPISODE SUMMERY

Deborah Barge · Chief Development Officer, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America | Deborah Barge's track record of working with nonprofits that have a deep history of donor engagement, like March of Dimes and Muscular Dystrophy Association, has given her insight into not just ways to cultivate donors, but also how to fast-track changes internally to achieve maximum buy-in.

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EPISODE NOTES

Vroom, vroom! Let's rev up your nonprofit's revenue engine!

Today we're talking to a friend, colleague, and nonprofit sparkplug Deborah Barge, the Chief Development Officer at Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, an organization that you maaaay have heard of.

Deb's track record working with charitable organizations that have a deep history of donor engagement, like March of Dimes and Muscular Dystrophy Association, has given her insight into not just ways to cultivate donors, but also how to fast-track changes internally to achieve maximum buy-in.

And that's not all Deb came to talk about—one of the things that brought Deb to Big Brothers Big Sisters was the pedal-to-the-metal way justice, equity, and inclusion are infused in everything they do, from the CEO on down to the youth they mentor, and how they've shifted gears thanks to COVID.

Hold on tight because this is a wide—and we mean WIDE—ranging conversation that follows its own roadmap from professional topics like nonprofit revenue generation and donor cultivation to Deborah's personal insights on the future of our youth and fundraising as a woman of color.

On this episode of Nonstop Nonprofit, Justin talks infinite nonprofit possibilities with Sean Goode, ED of Choose 180.


TRANSCRIPT

Hello, I'm Justin Wheeler, and welcome to this episode of Nonstop Nonprofit!

Listeners, it's time to strap on your seatbelt and get ready to rev up your nonprofit's revenue engine! Today we're talking to a friend, colleague, and nonprofit sparkplug Deborah Barge, the Chief Development Officer at Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, an organization that you maaaay have heard of.

Deb's track record working with charitable organizations that have a deep history of donor engagement, like March of Dimes and Muscular Dystrophy Association, has given her insight into not just ways to cultivate donors, but also how to fast-track changes internally to achieve maximum buy-in.

And that's not all Deb came to talk about—one of the things that brought Deb to Big Brothers Big Sisters was the pedal-to-the-metal way justice, equity, and inclusion are infused in everything they do, from the CEO on down to the youth they mentor, and how they've shifted gears thanks to COVID.

Hold on tight because this is a wide—and we mean WIDE—ranging conversation that follows its own roadmap from professional topics like nonprofit revenue generation and donor cultivation to Deborah's personal insights on the future of our youth and fundraising as a woman of color.

Let's dive in!

Justin Wheeler Deborah, thank you so much for joining the Nonstop Nonprofit podcast with me today. How are you doing?

Deborah Barge I'm well. How are you today?

Justin Wheeler I am doing very good. Very excited for our conversation. You and I have been able to have many conversations in the past, and so I am looking forward to what's in store for today.

Deborah Barge I am too. I always enjoy listening, so I'm excited to have some of our conversation together in this format.

Justin Wheeler Absolutely. So before we get too far, along with today's topic, you have a long, rich history in the nonprofit sector. And so I love it if you could just share a little bit about your background, your your nonprofit story, if you will, with our listeners here.

Deborah Barge Yeah, I love that. Thank you so much. So I feel like I came the opposite way of so many of us that are in nonprofit. As I started on the other end, I worked for Allstate Insurance Company and part of my role was giving away money. And I feel like many of us, a nonprofit are like when I get done, I'm going to go give away money. And I went the opposite way. I started giving away money. And when I left that environment, I thought, what do I want to do next? What I love about my work and what I realized I loved was those nonprofit organizations I had the chance to be exposed to so many. I went into communications thinking that might be the right parallel coming from a corporate environment, but quickly realized I'm a fundraiser. I am very excited to engage people at a mission. And so from that went to a great local organization in the Seattle area. I worked there for a while and quickly started consulting. So I also again feel like a little backwards. Many of us and nonprofits say, well, I'm done working at this organization, I'm going to go be a consultant. And I again went backwards. I did that for about 15 years until one of my clients who had been a client for ten years said, you really need to come inside in order to do the deep strategic work. In order to help us transform, you should be on staff. And that was March of Dimes, where after ten years of being a client, I joined the organization and then from there went into other large health charity at MDA and both roles scaling nationwide programs, fundraising and team. So very different path. I think that some of our traditional fundraising teams may endure in their world, where they sometimes start almost immediately fundraising almost immediately. In that space. I went backwards and now I'm so thrilled to be here at Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

Justin Wheeler We're definitely getting to that as well. If we take one step back, kind of to zoom in a little bit on on what you just shared, it sounds like, or how was that transition from consultant to inside, coming inside, running fundraising? What were some of the benefits that maybe you were able to pick up as a result of now being in-house versus on the service side?

Deborah Barge I do think there was some truth to the, you really can't transform the change management work that needs to happen for organizations to really evolve. That needs to be in-house. While you can coach from the outside arm and arm together. Moving a team forward is different on the inside. What I felt like I brought and I still have the benefit of bringing is the exposure I had to so many organizations what they did well, some of which being I was a great advocate and lead at Boys and Girls Clubs in local communities. I was really involved with local cancer organizations and their work and then really grassroots organizations like The Hands on Network. So bringing the best of all of those in House to an institutional organization, like March of Dimes, to step back and say strategically, where do we want to go? How could we take and borrow, as we all do in nonprofit, borrow from others in our industry to scale elements of our work in a new way? And how do we also borrow from corporate America to scale and evolve our workforce with some great best practices of training, of employee development and ensuring that those that were on the front line felt as though they had a career trajectory, an opportunity to be successful and an opportunity to learn how. One of the feedback pieces I received from a staff that I hear in my head still today is you helped us see how to do it, didn't just tell us what to do. And that was a big difference from what they'd experienced. I think that came out of so many years of consulting. You were teaching a partner, a client, how to move forward. And what I felt like I gained at being on staff was bringing that culture into the organization, but at the pace they were ready to accept and move forward through that change management.

Justin Wheeler Yeah, that that totally makes sense there. And, you know, something that's kind of struck me in our conversations we've had is you're a very strategic thinker. A very strategic fundraiser, and as a result, you've gone on and have raised tens of millions, probably more for the different charities that you've been involved in. And so can you talk a little bit about sort of the role that strategic planning plays? Because I think there's two different types of fundraisers, right? It's like the spray and pray. We're just to going to try everything and whichever one sort of like drives the most, the most donations will stick with it and keep going. I feel like your approach, at least from the outside, looking at some of the programs you've developed in your background, it's very thoughtful, very strategic. And so do you share a little bit about how that thinking has played into who you are as a fundraiser and as a leader in the space?

Deborah Barge At such a great question, and I laugh a little. I don't know what a big fan you are of your Strength's Finder, but strategic is my first. I almost move forward if there isn't a strategy embedded and then analytical a second. So they go very hand in hand that I not only need to see the strategy ahead, I need to be able to analyze the outcome. So I believe very strongly to start with the end in mind, what is the purpose of what we're doing? Whether it is an event or it's an individual appeal or we're trying to build a scaled campaign. Maybe we want to do a campaign capital campaign or something else. If we're not starting with that end in mind, then no matter what, we'll miss something in this plan. And then the second thing is we may undershoot what the opportunity is. And that's where I felt like I have done a better job of pause and plan even in the last few years. Even if that pause and plan is a week, I'm not talking months and months pause and plan, but take that moment to think about what's the outcome you're trying to drive before we just run and jump in the water and start swimming. Where are we going? We need to look up a little first and know that direction. So for me, that's the beginning. And I'm doing that today where I'm at in my new role, which has only been two months. It's a real fast run, right? You need on board quickly. You need to get embedded in the organization. But over the last two weeks, it's time to pause in order to get thoughtfully strategic with a three-year vision, I need to move back a little on the gas. I need to stop a moment, assess what I've seen in that first 60 days, and now move forward in this next thirty to something that takes for a three-year vision, not just looking at what gets me to the end of the calendar year, sometimes to the end result we're looking for is too short. It's like running the marathon. You can't look at the first ten miles. You have to look at finishing the race.

Justin Wheeler Right. And, you know, that's one of the things when I was actively fundraising, that's one of the things I hated the most. And I never really figured out how to get around it. But it was essentially at the end of the year, December 31st rolls around, January 1st comes everyone's celebrating. But then as fundraisers, you're thinking, oh, man, like my number just restarted and back at zero. I just work so hard all year trying to hit this target over achieving it, now it's it all just stops and starts over again. That's probably the part of the culture that we had built. But when you think about it from like a long-term perspective, how do you counter that sort of fatigue or that feeling that it's like always an uphill battle in fundraising? How have you overcome that through more of your long-term thinking approach?

Deborah Barge It's so perfect timing. I just left a conversation with a colleague and one of the agencies who does the same thing I do. They look at it and cycle and I have always looked three year this partner was looking at in five year, which I think is fantastic, if you can be that that broad-based. But I typically look at three year and you're always in the middle year of your funding. So you should have funders that are with you for that cycle so that when you hit January, you're actually not starting over. You have about a third in the bank for the next year because you raised it the year before and you were forwarding it to the next year. Number one, it gets your morale a little better. You don't ever feel like you're just starting over...

Justin Wheeler Yeah, just starting over.

Deborah Barge But the grind, but the other is for a funder you would get to develop a relationship. Whether that funder's a corporation, foundation or an individual donor, the goal is relationships. So as you bring them through a multi-year engagement, they deepen their passion for your work. They start to see their investment come to life and you get to ensure the work doesn't stop. One of our challenges as nonprofits, whether we're funding research or like us, we're funding direct relationships out in the communities. We can't stop because the calendar flipped and the dollars stopped coming in. We have to make sure that sustained over time. So I believe really strongly in that cycle of fundraising where you're looking for a third continuing that have already been committed to that multi-year, a third renewing, they may be cycling because of their fiscal year and their parameters, and then a third that you're looking at is new or expansion growth, something different. But it. It helps the tone of the staff not feel as though you're there, and then it helps also again deepen that part of partnership so that for all of us, there's going to be a moment where we need to ask a bigger and bolder. If we're doing that every year, if you compound over three years, you have this group of funders who are deeply engaged, who have been with you for a little while. And when you have the big bold idea, that you need champions around, you have a pool there, finally there. Or for many of us, when you have Covid, you have something to go back to and say, help us keep going.

Justin Wheeler Totally. Yeah, man. So many good things that were just mean that was like ten, ten LinkedIn posts right there that I could just think about such good content and we could do a whole podcast around sort of that three-year cycle. I think that that's super fascinating. Something else you mentioned that I wanted to come back to is you talked about when we're moving too fast, sometimes the opportunities could become smaller just because we're not really thinking through the big picture. And I couldn't agree with that more. I think, like a lot of times, people confuse scale and growth for speed. And, you know, those two things are not dependent on one another. You can scale and grow without speed or vice versa. And I remember thinking about there's this opportunity we had when I was at Liberty In North Korea with a major donor who had just started learning about the organization and wanted to contribute about $25,000, which was well under the capacity of this individual. And I actually did something they've never done before and I asked the donor, like, actually, hold on to the money. Before you give, I want you to learn more about the issue and you learn more about how we're addressing it. Like to come spend some time with you. This individual was out in Europe and went and spent some time, built a relationship and ended up giving $250,000 instead of $25,000. And I think that's an opportunity, an example of, you know, sometimes when we go too fast we miss the bigger opportunities. And I love that you pointed that out and highlighted that whether it's for event fundraising or just major donor development, I think there's just a lot to really unpack there.

Deborah Barge It's always, have you ever been in a situation where someone said yes too fast? You leave that conversation and you went, I didn't ask big enough. That is such a great example that you shared because you gave them the chance to deepen that passion and that relationship. But you also didn't leave saying, oh, I should have waited and gone further because they can do more.

Justin Wheeler Yeah, that's hard. I mean, it's hard obviously. You have to get to know individuals and understand those types of things, but, yeah, interesting. OK, so you recently became the Chief Development Officer of one of, I'd say, America's favorite charities, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. So tell us about your new role as the CDO and what you're hoping to accomplish in the position.

Deborah Barge Oh, thank you. It is the most fascinating organization to look historically at, and yet just as relevant from its founding over one hundred years ago as it is today as a mission. The organization Big Brothers Big Sisters is focused on one-to-one relationships, mentorship. Every young person deserves a mentor in their corner, someone's champion for their success. And what I love about this organization is while we are well known across the nation, our work today couldn't be more relevant as youth. One in three youth are missing that active role model mentor in their lives today. And we think about the last year and a half. We talk a lot about what the loss of education has meant. But 20% of our youth have lost their mentor over this time. They've lost that person who's on their side. That's not a parent or guardian really supporting their success and being a champion for them, regardless of situation. What I love about big brothers, big sisters and part of my choice was to be, as a woman of color, in an organization that speaks to the community in which I am from and of. And I think it's really important that this organization thrive today for our youth of tomorrow. It is where we are. What is exciting is I think people are realizing the investment in our youth is crucial and the investment in mentorship is crucial. And as an individual, even for you as a person and me as a person to talk about, I'm where I am today because of the people who stood along and were models for me where I could see myself in another. I was supported by someone outside of my parent or guardian. You can do this, you could achieve more. You should try for those coaches and those mentors in our lives at key phases of life, not just at age 12, but at age 19 as well. When I'm trying to decide what's after high school, those mentors are crucial and it's part of what's got me so excited about this work. It is time to come around the youth of today and ensure that not only do they have the opportunity to have that mentor, but that our workplaces are ready for them. When they join that, they're able to see each other and those like them in places of leadership and that the youth voice is honored. Look at what our youth did last year. Look at what our younger generations led in social justice and with an organization that serves over 70% BIPOC youth, we are listening to that voice every day. And what we are doing is creating allyship across young people and their mentors who are not 70% BIPOC, candidly. So we're creating this inclusive environment, building between diverse communities to ensure that our young people can thrive. So we look at it as how we were founded and what we do today and we call it JEDI. It's base, we are born out of the justice system to build equity and inclusion through these diverse communities mounted on mentorship. And it's working. It works today and it worked one hundred years ago. And it's what I think is going to help us move forward as a nation in a meaningful way.

Justin Wheeler Wow. That's I mean, to think about I mean, there's so much, so much there. And, you know, one of the things that stood out when you referenced, and I was going to ask a little bit about JEDI, because I was looking into that. And it seems to be not as much about the culture today as you said in during its founding, which really makes, you know, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America incredibly relevant, especially for the time we're living in when corporations and individuals are really examining how do we become more inclusive? How do we get better at these very important topics today? And in many ways, Big Brothers Big Sisters is an example of how that can be done really from the top down. And so, you know, I know you've only been there for a couple of months, but is this JEDI concept, is it something that it's a core value where every employee understands the importance and it's what we really, it's become a mandate of the organization. That's what it seems like from the outside, reading it more and more about it. But from your experience on the inside, is that how it is as well?

Deborah Barge It's that and more. It's embedded and infused in every one of our programs. So you don't have a program like our workplace mentoring program that doesn't have JEDI infused in it. You don't have our big futures program that's really focused on growing services for those up to age twenty-five, because your guess what, we're not done developing just because we graduated from high school. We still need those mentors. It is in our programs that serve little girls and what they want to be as they age. So it is embedded in every program. It's embedded in us as a workforce. It's a curriculum of training that we share with our bigs to make sure that they're bringing that to our littles. And then in our entire network, all the staff are participating in it is who we are. It's less of a check the box. It's authentically who we've been as we continue to be, and we make sure that it is what we live and breathe every day.

Justin Wheeler I wonder, too, I mean, this is not on our list of questions and maybe a little personal to feel free, to not feel obligated to answer it. But I'm curious, in your experience as women of color fundraising and being in the space for as long as you've been like the challenges that you've encountered, as a woman of color fundraising, and then finally finding a home that Big Brothers Big Sisters, which feels like it has an environment where that's of empowerment. I'm just curious as your journey, how that has been and how this sort of your new position, how it's potentially been a refreshing look at the industry from a different perspective. I don't know if that made much sense, but I wanted to ask.

Deborah Barge It totally, totally does. And candidly, it's why excuse me, it's why I looked for another role. And you are, you are spot on. This is a journey. It is the first time, I will say, as a woman of color and the daughter of a first-generation American, and I'm biracial. I'm both Pacific Islander and Hispanic, it's the first time I feel I'm able to bring my whole self to work. And that is a big statement coming out of nonprofit where you would think that is an industry, we made it very comfortable to bring your whole self to work. We're nonprofits. We all feel good. We all feel right. It does not appear that way. And especially for us that are fundraisers, because predominantly as fundraisers, I would argue that most of us still we analyze our data. A majority of our donors are still white. The majority of our donors are still very red, leaning in their political space. And so we assimilate to our donor. We fall into that and in the way that the Metoo Movement for women fundraisers changed the boundaries, I remember feeling inappropriate early in my career and going maybe not the kind of environment I want to be in. And we all went to a movement then. I do feel like those of us in the BIPOC community, as fundraisers, are going through that movement now where we now are saying, wait, we actually can bring our whole selves to this table. We can share our own personal and cultural experiences in this. And that has value in the fundraising space. It has value, especially when we represent missions like this one, where I'm not just representing me, I'm representing a little girl like me who someday is going to benefit from the services and support and get to have her own seat at a table she wants to be at. So it's hugely empowering and very different in the workplace.

Justin Wheeler Yeah. And I mean, just to kind of piggyback on that, just like the representation. I mean, the most important thing Big Brothers Big Sisters is doing is providing mentorship for the youth. And so when these youth see representation and what they can achieve and what they can aspire to be, that's almost just as powerful as having a one-to-one mentor for, at least I can imagine, when you have you see someone that looks like you in a position that one day you want, it gives you that optimism to keep pushing. And so very inspiring, very inspiring. And thank you for sharing that. I know that wasn't necessarily on the agenda today.

Deborah Barge No, I appreciate it. And you're right. If you can see it, you can be it. One of my colleagues recently wrote an op-ed in it. It couldn't be more true.

Justin Wheeler Got to check that out. Where can we find that op-ed?

Deborah Barge Oh, I will share. It was just released. And you actually made me think of how our CEO was just on the Today show last month. And a little boy who's at, I'm in the Seattle area, little boy in the Seattle area said, oh, the guy leading Big Brother he's a little bit, leading Big Brothers Big Sisters looks like me! It was a big deal and to me that was the best compliment our CEO could have received from anyone that saw that coverage. It was the little boy who could see himself and now see that I could be that. I could be the person leading an organization like this.

Justin Wheeler Oh, I love that. Gave me the chills. Give me the chills.

Deborah Barge Right? Yeah, same.

Justin Wheeler Yeah. All right. So let's dive into some more tactical questions here for the remaining part of our time. And so when I think about a lot of your work and the leadership you've brought into the fundraising community, I think of revenue development, revenue optimization. You and I have had a lot of conversations just around a more omnichannel approach to fundraising, the more diversified it can become, the more successful you will be. We saw this to be the case during the pandemic for organizations that were more diverse and had a more omnichannel approach. That weren't dependent on one or two main sort of revenue streams. So if you could maybe just kind of for our listeners, walk us through revenue development. You know, when you talk about that, when you think about developing revenue at an organization, what does that mean to you? And where do you get started as a fundraiser?

Deborah Barge Yeah, I so appreciate it. And I would say it is typically looked at as a three-legged stool. Where I'm starting is from that three-legged stool. It's the traditional foundation funding, right? That corporate funding and that individual donor. And when I think about that three-legged stool, they all have an important place at that table. But the base of the stool they create for us. But what I'm seeing more and more of is also not forgetting that there's some innovation in the nonprofit space, some that I saw early in my career where we can actually be entrepreneurial at the same time and be funding our organization. So it's and it's not quite a fully developed fourth leg for all of us, but for many of us, we're starting to transform there. I am not there today with where I'm at, but I know that it's coming. I know there is a place for that. And within those core three legs, I think it's really important to think about your ecosystem. I don't want a program that's overly dependent on any one funder in any area. And I also don't want my stool so lopsided that we are completely dependent on corporations and corporations at a moment like last year and say we're only funding this now. So we're taking away the money we would have normally given you or individuals who same reacted a little like disaster fundraising last year and gave to immediate need. Food, water, shelter as they should, but if we were overly dependent on any one leg of the stool, we wouldn't have been able to survive. So I feel like it's really important that your stool is balanced. Doesn't mean they're equal thirds, but it should be balanced from, again, that consistency of who's staying, who's the third you've built that long relationship with. And if you give your legs a stool and section. That's the way I look at it. I feel like there's these moments in the stool that grow longer and longer. The third that stay with me through the three years, the third that are traditional renewals and the third I'm building to make the stool taller and come together. I feel like that individual space is where there's some great innovation and chance for us to evolve as an industry from peer to peer to gaming to now there's even more, I think, to come and fees and bitcoin as we see that evolve, we need to be ready for that space in the way in the old days you'd be ready for stock. And I think we have to meet young people where they are. I came from two legacy organizations prior, both in your homes as children that taught you what philanthropy looks like. And so now we have to think about what's teaching today's youth, what philanthropy looks like and how are they giving at age 10 or 11? And what's that going to mean when they become twenty-five, thirty-five? How does that change their habit? So I feel like that individual leg is innovating at a pace that we all probably feel like we're behind on.

Justin Wheeler Right. I think in some regards, I think the pandemic did help accelerate that third leg for a lot of organizations, realizing at least looking at sort of digital as an opportunity to start acquiring more individual giving program. But you're what you mentioned just around going to where the donors are, especially when you're looking at like a younger donor demographic. We had Nick, the founder of Good United, on the podcast a few weeks ago, and he said something which is just has resonated and it's so true. And he basically said, you know, like, I never go to an organization's website to make a donation. It's typically because they've found me somewhere, whether it's on Facebook or some other medium or channel. I was captured through the content that that was created, the video that came up, whatever it might be. And that's what led me to give. And I think this is an area where lots of organizations can really further develop and accelerate growth around. Is this idea of going out to where donors are congregating, whether it's online, offline. And that's what I think makes for a strong recipe to create an individual donor program. So one of the things we talked about, one of the things you're doing at Big Brothers is helping develop the individual donor program. When you think about an organization your size, you would assume that that's something that's already quite developed. And so what is sort of the opportunities that you have to really kind of develop this third leg of the stool, if you will, that Big Brothers Big Sisters? And what areas are you most excited to really dive into?

Deborah Barge Oh, excited. There are a multitude of areas I'm very excited to dove into. One being that youth engagement side. I think we are uniquely positioned to tackle a innovative engagement for young people and have their voice at the table as we develop it. It's one of the things we're committed to is lifting up a youth council to advise on key pieces of our strategic plan to serve alongside our national board and ensure that youth voice is always in the center. So I'm really excited about that part. The part I'm really eager to engage and grow is we are a network, we're a federated organization. A Big Brothers Big Sisters in California gets to engage their individual donors and create a whole program. But what we have the opportunity to do as an organization that's a network is create infrastructure, support, benefits and access for their major donors to come to a larger table. To join the national movement of Big Brothers Big Sisters, because the walls are falling down for all of us and many of our major donors, while they may today live in that California team, they may move to the Massachusetts team and they still want to have their impact across the network. So where we as the national entity and what I'm excited to build, can come together is providing that donor, that continuity of mission across every part of the ecosystem. And where they get the opportunity to have access to things at a national scale because they're that invested in the cause, not just in their backyard, but for all young people in the country.

Justin Wheeler Yeah. Do you see a strong correlation between donors and mentors? One of the strategies a lot of nonprofits try to deploy is if we get people to volunteer and engage sort of on like the volunteerism, they'll eventually turn into donors. And so just curious with your, you know, expansive network of mentors, how much of them are also supporting the organization, funding the organization? That seems like a pretty organic, natural donor base,

Deborah Barge it is exactly the same theory that I think everyone has, which is volunteerism and advocacy always make you a more valuable donor in the pipeline. We haven't put forth a mission, a purposeful mission to engage one million alumni. And what we mean by alumni is people who have served as bigs or were littles or, and champions. So champions would be people like former board members or key volunteers and committees. Those people who have been passionate for a cause. We want a million of those alumni to come forth and help lead the movement. We've been around a hundred years. We definitely have more than a million alumni out there, but they aren't necessarily in the network today as active. And the reason they're not active is they may have aged out. What is phenomenal in the stories we want to bring forth is you might have been a little in your childhood and you may not be a little today. You may choose to be a big. It's the most beautiful story when you become a big and we're a former little. But you're likely also still in touch with your big and they're still part of your life and coming to your wedding and celebrating the birth of your children as you are now an adult. Those are the stories we want to bring forward because we know that that's actually the end mission achieved journey we're looking at, right, is when you get to be the little that is now mentoring another and still in touch with your mentor from your youth. This alumni challenge for us is that opportunity to bring that volunteerism thread together and let them engage in the way that's meaningful for them. Because I do believe you need to let volunteers drive some of that passion, that that is their activation.

Justin Wheeler It's like the perfect segment of supporters to build a strong recurring donor program.

Deborah Barge 100%!

Justin Wheeler And feel like you guys have a network. You could build one of the largest recurring donor programs in the nation based off of kind of that. I mean, it's such a valuable, when you have that experience when, and I'm talking about from a mentors perspective, when when you see sort of the value that you were able to add into someone's life without a financial contribution, more of just a time contribution, you see that impact. And like, how do I, like, magnify this? I can't, like, scale myself. I could only I have only have so many hours. How do I make this more possible? I invest and I'm like selling for you now. But I love the concept. I love that going after these people that have been engaged and have actually experienced the impact. Because when you when you have supporters that have experienced the impact firsthand of what you're doing, this is why we took donors all the time to Southeast Asia to see that the North Korean refugees that they were actually funding their escape and rescue. When they saw that they became lifelong supporters. And I think that's whenever you can do that as an organization, it becomes such an and that's such a powerful tool for fundraising.

Deborah Barge I'm on a roll, Justin. I've been here two months. I have not been in a meeting with multiple people or someone wasn't a former big, a former little or a former board member. So far, it's it's straight because the organization touches that widely. We have a network of people who have kept this mission alive for 100 years and keep serving youth today.

Justin Wheeler That's amazing. All right. So a few more questions. Again, I could talk to you forever. Another interesting parts about your career is you've developed one of the larger peer-to-peer programs in the space. When nonprofits step back and are building out their peer-to-peer channel, you know, they often are looking at the March of Dimes of the world in regards to how do we achieve this type of success. And so I'd love to kind of just dig in here a little bit. And especially as organizations are gearing up for an end of year, gearing back up for live events, in-person events, or at least a hybrid of the two, any sort of thoughts around your learnings while building up one of the larger peer-to-peer programs? What can people borrow from your expertize? What whether it's the successes or the failures that you think are important for fundraisers to understand?

Deborah Barge Well, the one joy we all experience in peer-to-peer is the walls came down on event day being the thing you were coming together for last year, right. We all put in a lot of effort. And I have to say I inherited a beautiful program at March of Dimes. They were the first organization to institutionalize Walk, as we all know it today, that big peer-to-peer model. They did it back in the late 70s and early 80s. And we all copied like we all do again and nonprofit their experience and personalized it. They were the granddaddy of the walk experience in the same way that I was able to go to MDA, who was the granddaddy of the telethon with Jerry Lewis and it was in your living room. So I have had the privilege of inheriting the gift.

Justin Wheeler I'm still a sucker for the telethon.

Deborah Barge And we were able to bring the telethon back at MDA last year in a new way. We revitalized it with someone. Kevin Hart at the helm, who was relevant, but virtual. How do you do it differently for today's generation? How do you do walk differently? I think what freedom we all received was venue was anything you could be anywhere and walk or run or jog or bicycle or golf or whatever you did. We made it very free. It almost became donor's choice in a way that some of us might have been afraid of before. And it was a little because we felt like we needed that deadline. If we don't have walk day, people won't raise money. If we don't have activation in the first 30 days, they won't raise money. If we don't have these challenges, they won't raise the milestones. What I found is engagement was key. So communication with those donors that just like always your team captains and your champions, your top teams, the incentives while important, we're not vital last year, especially last year. And I think what it taught us is many of us felt like the prize is what got them to the next level ain peer-to-peer. What that pandemic fundraising taught us was there's actually care here. I care about your cause. I don't need you to send me another windbreaker with your logo on it. It's great if you do, but it's not really why I did it. I did it because I care. And you said something earlier. Someone engaged me. I showed up on a stream. Someone engaged me. That, my friend asking, my friend storytelling why they're supporting March of Dimes, MDA, Big Brothers Big Sisters, that's why I clicked, because I respect my friend and I respect the causes they care about. And I do want to make a difference and I trust them. I trust my friend shows a cause that's worthy, that I will stand behind. So I think we gave our champions a little freedom last year. And I see many of the big the big, big guys letting that continue, thinking about a new way to keep peer-to-peer going that isn't so rigid about what day of means and what the activity means for the participant. I think the same thing is happening in breakfast galas, luncheon's. Some hybrid's going to continue. We are not going to go all back to a ballroom of twelve hundred people. We're going to keep being hybrid for a while.

Justin Wheeler Yeah, I'm a board member at this organization I mentioned earlier, Liberty In North Korea. And I'm on the gala committee helping plan that the galas this fall, and regardless of what happens with this new Delta variant, whether it means we have to go completely virtual, in the best-case scenario, where that's not the reality, and we could have these events, we're still actually optimizing for a virtual audience. And I think this is really the future of live events. Instead of having three hundred people see your programing that you spent a lot of money and time on, why not ten thousand people or one hundred thousand people, however many as possible? And so I love this idea of like opening up events, making them more accessible for all demographics and also seeing the decentralization of peer-to-peer and it being able to be along with people schedules. And I think that there's definitely ways to continue to optimize it. But I totally agree and I'm seeing that and seeing, you know, that sort of be the new trend. So it'll be interesting, as we you know, two, three, four years from now, how this evolves and how it's really optimized for further growth and so forth.

Deborah Barge I agree with you. I feel like we were given a gift last year of innovating and letting go of old things that maybe we held sacred in those event models that we were given permission to let go of and now try something new. And we don't have to go back. We get to go forward.

Justin Wheeler Totally. And the fear is and even when we were discussing this on the board, the fear that many of the fundraisers had was around donor cultivation. Well, like, this is how we cultivate major donors. I said, I mean, outside of, you know, well-run events, what are your thoughts around cultivating these major donors, around experiences or other opportunities for engagement? Have you found new ways or new strategies to better cultivate?

Deborah Barge One hundred percent. And I feel like I've seen all of us do such a great job here at Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. One of the things we lifted up was a new, we used Facebook live like everyone else did, and we lifted up a new resource called Race, Relationships and Resources. It's open to anyone, but we use it as an opportunity to go to major donors and say, please join this forum. Listen in if you can't listen live, here's the link. And then I love to have a conversation with you about what you heard. Because now we've created dialog. We're not just saying look at my show on the stage, which is what the event is, and it is what this forum is. But we're actually creating the door open to have the next meeting. I always, always say that our goal is always for the next conversation. It's not just for today, it's to keep talking. So I think this innovation of having just storytelling, think about the parts of your event that are just storytelling of impact. We get to storytelling impact and now use it as a conversation moment with the donor far more meaningfully even than maybe before. And by the way, think of how all of a sudden the last year is giving you access to donors in a way you didn't before. You used to have to travel to them. You used to have to make these big appointments and now you're meeting them in their backyards. Some of them are working in their bedrooms and you're seeing their dog run by or they're cat on the computer just like you. It's created this equity between donor and fundraiser, and it's giving you access to an intimate side of them you may have not seen before. I think it's something that we all have to remember our early lessons as fundraisers. We were taught to observe in the office, they had an award for this on the wall. They had this photo of their children and grandchildren and these were insights to the conversation. Well, now behind them, what are you seeing? Where are they sitting? Where are they calling you from? How was their quarantine time and who was with them? You just received the gift of knowledge about your donor through these conversations that otherwise you wouldn't have received.

Justin Wheeler Such a good perspective. Yeah, I didn't even think about sort of the you know, from the equity perspective, humanizing like everyone's become more humanized through this experience. And so I love how that specifically relates to donor cultivation and building up relationships. So very insightful. Thank you for sharing that. Two more questions. We're running a little late and so hopefully, hopefully we're OK here on your time schedule. Something that that you and this again, makes a lot of sense. You talked about strategic analysis being some of your top strengths. And so you talk a lot about developing using data, responsive data to create donor-centric teams. And so the question that I have is how can you leverage data to be a more donor-centric team?

Deborah Barge Yeah, it's a great question. And it is interesting. Many of us are students of Penelope Burke and that idea of donor-centered fundraising. And I feel like it's taking a new level. We want to be donor-centered, but with mission always there, right? We never want to lean. So far that donor wins over mission. It is that beautiful little space. But what we are able to do now with data in a way that I don't know that we were able to even five years ago, is tell our story of impact in more real-time. So here at Big Brothers Big Sisters, we take, for example, a youth outcome survey every single year. And our youth tell us, and the mentors share their feedback and a separate feedback system, where we can see if we're making progress in real-time. We're not waiting until you have graduated high school and are now that adult we talked about earlier. We are now seeing that you feel in 10th grade you are on track for a path to graduation and a plan for your future. And you can say that confidently and we can see it progress through your journey with us. That data goes then to the donor to say, donor, look at how your dollars are making an impact on children today and look at how we're able, even through the pandemic, to maintain connection with our youth, and they still feel confident in spite of this learning loss we spoke about, in spite of this time alone, they still feel confident they have a plan for their future. That for a donor is the kind of impact they want to see. And that means that they see the difference their dollar is making. They don't need to see what does every dollar do. They need to see, how is the real change happening? And this has given us the chance here to get away from one dollar means X, to your gift is changing this life in this way.

Justin Wheeler Got it makes a lot of sense. And so sort of the data kind of supports how that change is happening, what's happening, and therefore, it makes your team more more donor centric because you're able to relay the impact and a much more articulate way back to the donor where they feel that hey, this was a really great investment of the time and money into this mission. I can actually see the results that are there being driven. And I understand what the organization is going. Love it, love it, absolutely love it. All right. So I have to ask this last question. Just because we are turning the corner here in Q3 and gearing up for a very busy end of year giving season, regardless of fiscal, whether you're on the fiscal year or calendar year. So any advice for organizations as they gear up for Giving Tuesday, end of year? Any advice that you would give as nonprofits navigate this busy season?

Deborah Barge What works still works is one. Meaning what worked before pandemic of matching gifts, work, you know, good communication and good storytelling still work. Those are still very important. But the other is continue to be bold. What all of us did as fundraisers last year, we lost our fear of asking because it was vital for our organizations to stay open. It was vital for the mission that we asked without fear for a donor to join us to be at our table, to rise to the occasion. No gift was too small. No gift was not important enough to pursue. That is still where we are. And we shouldn't lose that boldness because our missions across the industry matter. We are making social change. We are driving innovative research. We are the people who are. Ensuring our youth have these opportunities to see themselves and their futures, we are doing all that work in philanthropy and in the nonprofit space, so don't be afraid to continue that boldness that we had last year. There are some things that we should hang on to.

Justin Wheeler Absolutely. I love it. And I think, you know, that what I'd add onto that is the incredible service you're providing the donors by allowing them to give the way it makes them feel about helping and being a part of something bigger than you can't buy that, you know, and and so as fundraisers, you are really the gatekeeper into helping donors feel a lot better, which, you know, not to make that I don't want that to be taken necessary out of context. But it's an important motivator of why a lot of people give. And and it's an important as a fundraiser, that's an important responsibility to have. And that's my opinion.

Deborah Barge I had a mentor say to me, it's an honor to be asked. And we ought to remember the way you just said that, it is an honor for that donor to be asked to give a gift and we give them that honor.

Justin Wheeler Absolutely. Yeah, that was a lot better articulated than how I did.

Deborah Barge That's why I stole it from a mentor.

Justin Wheeler Well, Deb, thank you so much for your time and just all that you shared. Really excited to continue our conversations outside of the podcast, but thank you for just giving us your time today and sharing your insights and your experience. We really do appreciate it.

Deborah Barge Thrilled to be invited. Thank you for hosting the podcast. Many of us in the industry listen and like to hear from each other, so we appreciate the forum.

Justin Wheeler Absolutely. And we'll keep it going then. All right Deb. Have a great day.

Deborah Barge You, too. Thanks so much.

Justin Wheeler Bye


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