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One-on-One with Elana Frank: Founding and Scaling a Nonprofit

Nearly everyone has had an idea for a business or nonprofit they’d like to establish. Personal experiences — both good and bad — often lead us to a product or service that can help others. But where do you even start? And once you’ve founded your organization, how do you know when it’s ready to grow?

We recently spoke with Elana Frank about her experience founding and scaling the Jewish Fertility Foundation (JFF). Established in 2015, the organization now has eight locations across the country.

Following infertility treatments, Frank wanted a way to support other women and couples facing the same situation. Her background at a community-organizing nonprofit in New York and a master’s degree in nonprofit management gave her a solid foundation for starting a nonprofit. But even so, she’s had much to figure out along the way. 


Founding and Scaling JFF 

Frank has three children born from various fertility treatments. The first two were born via in vitro fertilization (IVF) in Israel, where she and her husband lived at the time. The process was free through Israel’s socialized medicine program, although it was a lonely and isolating time for Frank.

“When I came back to America, I understood how expensive fertility treatments are,” she said. “And our government doesn’t provide socialized medicine, so there’s an exorbitant amount of money that people are spending on treatments.”

It took Frank another five years to have her third child through an embryo donation. Throughout this nine-year journey, she was inspired to build an organization that would help people going through fertility treatments.

Frank started the Jewish Fertility Foundation to help people pay for treatments. She knew how to unite people around a specific cause thanks to her nonprofit background. She felt the initial idea was solid, but she needed help with the ins and outs of running an organization. Once Frank brought the founding board members together, they understood it wasn’t just about the money. It was also about the emotional support and education they could offer.

With these three pillars in place — funding, support, and education — JFF began to take shape. Its first location was in Atlanta, Georgia, and scaling was always on Frank’s mind. But she also knew the value of focusing small. Face-to-face meetings with patients, being present at fertility clinics, and in-person therapy sessions — Frank and her team spent three years developing these local pieces to ensure they worked well before they ever thought of expanding. 


Adding New Locations

In 2019, JFF opened its second location in Cincinnati, Ohio. Frank said it was an experiment to see whether they could replicate the pilot model, which proved successful. The organization will soon open its 10th office. Every step was tracked and evaluated.

Of course, before a new location is opened, a yearlong process involves an exploratory committee working with local lay leaders and volunteers to raise initial capital. This process also includes parlor meetings, or face-to-face meetings, with potential investors and volunteers.

“We already have ins into the city,” Frank said. “We’re not looking to ever be an organization that comes and says, ‘We’re here; we’re planting our flag here.’ There’s a lot of homework that’s done prior.” 


Hiring the Right Staff 

Frank said the most important lesson they learned in opening their second location was when to hire a local staff person. This is often a challenge for a nonprofit leader — especially if the new location is in a different state.

For JFF, the ideal person is a connector who can get the organization ingrained within the community. Frank looks for someone who’s very organized and entrepreneurial with a go-getter attitude. After all, this position is like a mini-CEO. One day, they may meet with doctors at fertility clinics; the next, they might staff a table at a community festival.

They also do a lot of back-end work and organizational management. This could include coordinating support groups and marketing to clinics.

Frank said this multifaceted personality type isn’t always easy to find, so they often rely on the relationships they’ve built within the local community for recommendations. She also said that some of JFF’s best employees are people who have personal connections to the nonprofit’s cause.


The Value of a Business Coach

Frank’s top advice for founders and leaders is to work with a professional business coach. This person will call you out, build you up, and help you further develop your leadership skills.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without my coach,” she said. “That has been one of the most important pieces.”

To find a coach, talk with other nonprofit and business leaders to see who they recommend. Local, regional, or statewide groups like the Georgia Nonprofit Center can also help, as can professional societies like chambers of commerce.

One critical lesson Frank is learning through her coach is that she can’t do it all. Though she’s pulled in a dozen different directions, trying to fulfill every need of the organization often leaves her frenzied and scattered. That’s not what boards, staff, and volunteers want to see in their leadership.

Instead, Frank encourages leaders to slow down and give themselves grace. 


Get Support as You Grow 

Nonprofit founders and leaders may feel pulled to do it all for their organization, but it’s important that they surround themselves with people they trust. A good coach, a supportive board, talented staff, and dedicated volunteers can make the journey of founding and scaling an organization more manageable.

Allegiance Group + Pursuant would be happy to partner with you as you establish and grow your nonprofit. We can connect you with resources and tools to support and simplify processes like fundraising and marketing. Connect with us today to learn more.


This blog is based on a recent episode of Fundraising Today and the Go Beyond Fundraising podcast. Listen to the full episode now.