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Podcast | Zeroing in on Your Mission — and the Tough Choices That Come Next

You know your organization’s mission and likely have some successful programs. But when you step back and look at the big picture of what you want to achieve, are your programs moving the needle? Or is there a way you can make an even bigger impact, even if it means significant (and maybe scary) internal changes?

On this Go Beyond Fundraising podcast episode, Whitney Norman, Pursuant’s Vice President of Client Solutions, chats with Michelle Romero, Chief Strategy Officer at Dream.org. Michelle has been leading some meaningful conversations about what transformative change is and how organizations can approach it authentically. Let’s dig in. 


How Organizations Can Identify Their Unique Value

As a nonprofit working with vulnerable communities, you often struggle to serve all their needs. But it’s essential to focus on what you do best and what you can actually offer.

In the social justice space especially, fundraisers often believe that if they could organize enough people, they can create change. But if we’ve learned anything from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that some things are way beyond our control. Plus, given how rapidly technology and the pace of innovation are moving, the best thing for nonprofits to do is stay responsive but be agile.

Romero says it’s time to break out of the way things have always been done. Instead, let’s think about the future we’re trying to create and who we need to be to accomplish it now. 


‘Live Free, Lead Free, and Free Others’

As a social justice advocate, Romero knew she wanted to make a difference. Specifically, she wanted communities of color and the communities that she came from to have greater access to opportunity.

This put her on the path to working in systems change and policy change — how we create the rules that will actually give people opportunities. Her philosophy of “Live free, lead free, and free others” started with helping other people never be in her situation.

Romero’s personal mission is to live the life she preaches: to live free from the beliefs that have held her back and to lead more boldly. She believes she can make her biggest impact and free others from their limitations by doing so. 


The Hard Choices We Face

Transformative change doesn’t happen without hard choices. Upon receiving a $10 million grant from the Bezos Earth Fund, Dream.org found it was time to level up. The organization’s leaders took this opportunity to ask themselves some hard questions:

  • What is the deepest impact that we can make?
  • Who are we in this world?
  • What is it that we want to offer?

They realized that Dream.org is actually a systems change organization. At its core, the nonprofit wants to solve major systemic issues like poverty and pollution.

But once they realized, accepted, and owned this, Romero says it fundamentally changed how they approached their programs. For instance, one such initiative helped black and brown talent enter the tech sector. It involved an eight- to 10-week training course connecting participants to employers with ready jobs. By all measures, the program was a success.

In its best year, the program placed 100 people on a career path. But if its goal is to diversify the tech sector, will 100 people a year move the needle? Probably not.

Instead, the organization pivoted to work with climate and justice tech innovators and entrepreneurs. The thought process is simple: by getting behind today's innovators, Dream.org can have a greater impact in closing the wealth gap and diversifying these new economic sectors.

How To Align Donors with Your Mission Values and Impact

Your donors are more than just dollar bills — they want to be part of something greater than themselves. As a nonprofit, you’re a vehicle for creating the change they want to see, so it’s essential that donors feel like they’re an active part of your mission. Romero says this key concept is fundamental to raising more money than ever.

View donors as collaborators in pursuit of the same goal. Of course, you’ll ask them for money, but what else can they contribute? What are they seeing in the field? Who can they connect you with?

By treating the donor relationship as a partnership, constituents will start to see that you’re in this together. Donors become more loyal, and the dollars start to flow. 


‘Start Human and Stay Human’ 

There’s so much more to this conversation that you don’t want to miss, such as:

  • Why it pays to connect on a human level, like by calling Jeff Bezos by his first name right out of the gate.
  • Why you should always just “say the thing” that your unique perspective is bringing to a conversation.
  • Why leaders should look beyond the “loudest voice in the room” to find new ideas and opportunities.

Want to hear more? Listen to the full episode:

Connect with Whitney Norman

Connect with Michelle Romero

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