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In May of 2005 the Nordstrom family was blessed with the birth of Faith Anastasia Nordstrom. Faith was born with complex medical issues that ultimately resulted in her passing at only 14 days old. Through their grief, the Nordstrom family was moved to help children in need and by Christmas of that same year Global Orphan Relief (GO!) was born.
Faith’s short time on earth inspired the creation of an organization that currently supports 698 orphaned children in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Pakistan, South Sudan, and Zambia. The House of Faith Orphanage in Silembe, Zambia is GO!’s largest campus serving 49 children. With the help of 144 volunteers GO! has deployed 21 relief teams to DRC, Mexico, Uganda, and Zambia.
You personally have over 25 years’ experience in sales management and business development, how has that experience aided you in expanding Global Orphan Relief?
With a movement like ours it’s difficult to depend on just a handful of donors. This type of service work requires resources. Marketing, whether it’s positioning our website just right or simply asking people for money, is necessary to be able to serve so many children. With my sales experience, I am not afraid of asking people for money. I am comfortable talking to just a couple of people and have also presented to groups of about 300. The business experience I have allows me not to be intimidated by those types of situations. With Global Orphan Relief in terms of donor development, call it sales if you want, my sales experience has been an important element for our movement. Children’s lives are in the balance.
How is business development in a nonprofit organization different from a commercial organization?
My career has been focused primarily on business to business rather than business to consumer marketing. The business to consumer process is less personal, it usually does not require a prior relationship before presenting your goods or services. At Global Orphan Relief we are asking individuals to take money out of their own pocket for a movement that is very far away. The vast majority of GO!’s funding is from individual donors. Trust is foundational in the relationship between a nonprofit and their funding partners. Donors need to know where their money is going and trust that it is being used efficiently. The challenge is tapping into that emotional motivation that will encourage someone to make a difference. It is far more difficult when you don’t have that prior relationship.
What are some of the marketing strategies utilized by GO!?
We have focused primarily on digital marketing: our webpage, social media, and email. It has been our goal to minimize any administrative costs and drive growth of the movement. When someone gets an email from the president and founder of an organization it is a personal form of communication. I break all the electronic marketing rules. Messages are not short; they are not brief. I give everybody the full scale and scope of what we are doing. We don’t have the resources to communicate as often as maybe we should, so when we do I want to give them a full expose’ of the movement. I know what our capacity is. I think it’s important for any nonprofit to understand it’s capacity and what their priorities are. Our priority is to serve children in need, which takes away from our capacity to communicate with our donors. In that process of balance, I build expectations with our funding partners.
In person one-on-one communication has definitely been a critical component as well; many of our donors know me, one of the board members, or someone else that is involved in the movement. Overall I would say our funding is driven by one-on-one communication via email with a follow-up phone call. Sending an email is great, but response rates go up about 85% with a personal phone call after the initial communication.
We utilize some printed materials for presentation purposes. Vision Graphics/ Eagle:xm helped us design and produce vision cards for the movement. These provide us with an easy reference point to outline what we are doing, what we have done, and where we are going while having a conversation with a potential donor. Leaving these cards with the people we’ve spoken to reminds them of what we talked about and provides them with additional information. For example, we utilized these cards at our annual Gala earlier this year. Vision Graphics/ Eagle:xm has also produced some fantastic display graphics for us with their wide format capabilities.
It has been amazing to see how effective we have been with so little it is nothing short of supernatural. Marketing is important, but prayer is what has allowed us to grow the way we have. For me the whole experience has been a faith builder. Last year we went to Zambia and we set forth some funding expectations for the trip at about $25,000. I am very good at math and I really couldn’t conjure up any way this funding goal was going to be reached. I knew that it was a real stretch. We ended up raising $28,000 for the project. It was an amazing accomplishment based on the time and effort invested by a group of volunteers.
Donating is one-way people can contribute to GO!, what are some of the other ways for individuals to get involved?
It is difficult to deploy volunteers here locally, because our work is so far away. We have some folks that work in accounting on a volunteer basis and we have folks that work in creating child profiles for the website. Our board is an all-volunteer board; they oversee the administration of the movement. At times we have had volunteers update our website and coordinate social media. If someone wants to volunteer, depending on their skill set, they might be able to put their skills to good use in a movement like GO!
We have also deployed 144 volunteers on 21 different teams to Zambia, DRC, Mexico and Uganda. The teams are typically in country for two weeks. They encourage the local people and they themselves change because of the experience. We try to have one single focus for the team as they are deployed, but that focus is not crystalized until we know who is on the team and the skill-sets involved.
Where do you see GO! in the future?
We have a vision to serve 1,440 orphans on a monthly basis. We came together as a board and agreed on this in August of 2014. At the time we were serving about 80 children on a monthly basis. Today we are serving 698 children on a monthly basis in 5 countries.
Each country offers its own set of very specific challenges, so I would like to stay focused on the 5 countries where we serve today, but we are not necessarily restricted by that. I believe that by 2020 we could be serving 1,440 orphans. We are an all-volunteer movement so garnering the resources is challenging. When you deploy resources to the field there is an accountability aspect to that and you certainly want to be prudent with the resources people entrust to you. As we add to the number of children this process becomes more challenging. If we limit ourselves to the 5 countries in which we are currently serving, it makes this process a little easier.