Takeaways from the 2012 Texas Nonprofit Summit


The theme of this year’s Texas Nonprofit Summit was “Inspiring Allies and Impact.” This was the first time in the past several years that I was able to attend and give the content my undivided attention. The opening Keynote was offered by Dr. Tererai Trent, whose testimony of escaping a remote village in Zimbabwe to obtain her Ph D.  and found Tinogona, a nonprofit dedicated to constructing schools in Africa, brought tears to many attendees eyes.

  • On the need for nonprofit collaboration: “It takes two rocks to kill head lice.”
  • On nonprofits competing for funds: “When two elephants fight, the grass loses.”

She concluded her speech with perhaps the most memorable quote of the summit, exclaiming “Nonprofits defy everything because we want meaning in other people’s lives.”

The first breakout session I attended focused on peer to peer fundraising, and how to harness the power of supporters and followers. While conceptually the session was interesting, and reminded me to use more multimedia components like photos, videos, and infographics, I felt like the tools and content really were targeted toward a larger organization with more than a one person development office. Does my organization have a large enough following to implement a peer to peer fundraiser? Probably not. Do I have the time or resources to create a mobile app or online donation applications? No. Nonetheless, I was inspired to spend more time implementing our website and to better tell my organization’s story.

I then attended a session directed by Rachel Armbruster, who is best known for her direction on the Lance Armstrong Foundation’s yellow bracelet campaign with corporate partner Nike. Not conincidentally, the session discussed how to best foster corporate relationships and collaborate with corporations to raise revenue and organizational awareness. She was unsurprisingly full of insight, stressing flexibility and the need to court corporations rather than ship materials to them and hope for the best (something I know I’ve been guilty of). She encouraged implementing networking opportunities and relationships stemming from board members and existing partners. A bulk of the session discussed what attracts corporate partners, from volunteer programs and innovative practices to integrate staff with charity initiatives, to how to show partners that their investment is worthwhile and valuable. She also stressed the importance of making opportunities and programs web-accessible….another item for the to do list. I also attended a few other sessions and film screening covering data metrics and outcomes management.

So what were my biggest takeaways from the conference?

1.     USE YOUR WEBSITE AS A TOOL. Every session stressed the increased time people spend on social media, mobile apps, and the internet. There are tons of opportunities online to reach new audiences and increase awareness for your organization. Put as much information online as possible, and begin to engage online.

2.     METRICS MATTER. It isn’t enough to offer great programming and mission focused services. Now, donors have a wide array of organizations competing for their dollar, and they are seeking the biggest and most tangible impact for their buck. Organizations need to track progress, make changes to services not offering substantial impact, and be ready to show donors successes (and failures) of programming.

3.     DON’T PUT YOUR EGGS IN ONCE BASKET. It isn’t enough to have a thriving individual donor base anymore. Corporations, grants, individual donors, third party fundraisers, and other supporters all need to be integrated into a healthy development plan. Grant funders and donors are looking for sustainability, and the better an organization can prove this, the more likely they are to be supported.

4.     RELAX. Everyone is in the same boat as you. While the American Cancer Society and Charity Water are touted as wonderful examples for charities to live by, most organizations are small shops, where everyone works hard and doesn’t cross off everything on their to do list before they go home. 

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