Earlier this week I was talking with a colleague who has recently joined the board of a terrific nonprofit. I know the organization pretty well and have seen first hand some of the great work they do to help a very vulnerable population. My friend has been engaged with the agency for quite a while, learning about budgets, grants, endowment growth, and other "board business." He was surprised however, that he had not had any direct exposure to the population that the agency serves. My immediate reaction was "how can that be?" This is an agency with tons of real life success stories, lots of communication channels with donors, great board and staff leadership, and a great reputation in the community. How could they have missed this?
Then it hit me. Sometimes, as we hurry to check off all the boxes of board orientation and community education, we sometimes overlook the most obvious steps in igniting the philanthropic spirit of a new leaders or potential donor - giving them an up close and personal introduction to our missions.
There is no better way to bring your mission to life for those who can help you than letting them experience what you do first hand: Have them work side by side with the new homeowner providing sweat equity in building their new home; walk the property lines of land you are hoping to preserve; read a story to the class of children with special needs; serve a meal to the hungry or deliver meals to shut-ins; observe in a classroom lab where at-risk teenagers are dissecting a frog for the first time.
If you want to see the power of a personal engagement with mission at work, I invite you to take a short drive over to Peacehaven Farm. It's just a mile off Interstate 40 near Greensboro. It's a peaceful place where adults with disabilities work side by side with college students, church goers, and other volunteers nurturing a special community garden and building a beautiful home in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Greensboro. The house, called Susan's View, will soon be home for several adults who will benefit from Peacehaven's type of care. Sign up for a workday and experience this special mission for yourself. You won't regret it.
When leaders and donors see what you do, touch it, and participate in it, the enthusiasm for service and for giving will be substantially greater than if they simply hear about it in a meeting.
Bert Armstrong is a co-founder and Principal of Armstrong McGuire.