Nonprofit spotlight: Gigi's Playhouse
By Jordan Lappin
As we begin nearing the holiday season and Giving Tuesday, we are starting a blog series to highlight the incredible organizations that we are partnered with at Triangle Cares. This week, we are highlighting the amazing work that takes place at GiGi’s Playhouse!
Down syndrome remains the most common chromosomal condition diagnosed in the United States. Each year, about 1 in every 700 babies are diagnosed with Down syndrome. Despite these staggering numbers, down syndrome is the least funded chromosomal disability in the United States. GiGi’s playhouse was created by Nancy Gianni in 2003 after her baby was born with down syndrome.
“About an hour after my daughter GiGi was born, the doctors suspected she had Down syndrome. Panic was welling up inside me but I was afraid for anyone to see it. As soon as my husband and I made eye contact I said, “if anyone can handle this we can.” I knew we were going to get through this together. Don’t get me wrong – we were petrified! I can not even begin to tell you the total fear and devastation I felt. Everything they were telling us about Down syndrome was so negative! Suddenly no one had eye contact with me anymore, they kept the door to my room closed and they kept sending in the clergy! If this was happening to us already what was life going to be like for our kids? I was so afraid to bring her home and start this “new” life. I remember when people first came to visit. There were hugs of sympathy not congratulations. They would tip toe towards the bassinet and seemed afraid to look inside to see what she would look like. Then when they finally mustered up the courage to look they saw this beautiful little baby and they were shocked! They always exclaimed “Oh my gosh! She is adorable!”
I really don’t know what they were expecting to see but finally people started to realize she was just a baby. One night when Gigi was a toddler, I made a promise to her that I would change the way the world looked at a person with Down syndrome; that I would help people understand that she and all of her friends were so much more than a diagnosis. With the help of people like you and the Playhouses across the world, that promise is being kept – not just for GiGi but for all our children.”
Thanks to Nancy Gianni, GiGi’s playhouse is the only network of Down Syndrome Achievement Centers with over 56 brick and mortar locations across the United States and Mexico. The mission of GiGi’s playhouse is clear: to change the way the world views Down syndrome and to send a global message of acceptance for all. Every day, GiGi's provides free life-changing therapeutic, educational, and career training programs for 30,000+ individuals of all ages who have down syndrome. These programs include teaching fine motor skills, gross motor skills, social skills and language, and career skills.
By Jordan Lappin
Take a moment and think of the most popular and reputable nonprofit organizations that exist today. Which ones jump to the top of your head? For me, I immediately think of the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, and St. Jude’s Research Hospital. These organizations collectively bring in billions of dollars each year and make a tremendous impact in local communities and throughout the world. But what is the key that makes these organizations so successful? Branding.
What is branding? The word ‘branding’ can sound like something that’s strictly reserved for large for-profit companies, but branding is as important for nonprofit organizations as it is for businesses. Branding is “the process of researching, developing, and applying a distinctive feature or set of features to your organization so that consumers can begin to associate your brand with your products or services.” More specifically for the nonprofit sector, branding is the experience people have with your organization - your logo, your mission, your values, and the experience of being apart or working with the people in your organization.
As part of the leadership team for your nonprofit organization, you might feel overwhelmed with all of the moving pieces - the fundraising, recruiting volunteers, the operation, and most importantly ensuring that your organization is serving your mission. While all of those pieces are very important, it's critical to not overlook what might be the secret to sustained success: a strong brand.
Here is a concise guide to developing your brand as a nonprofit organization:
1. DIG DEEP INTO YOUR IDENTITY: Arguably the most important step in creating your branding is digging deeper into the core of your organization. How can your branding most accurately reflect your mission statement? How can your branding convey what goals you’re trying to achieve? Who is your audience? How can you use this information to design your branding with them in mind?
2. TELL YOUR STORY: Storytelling is the key to a compelling and successful brand. We are naturally more inclined to listen to and remember stories that pique our interest, so weaving a story through your brand can draw supporters in. A good story can also unlock the emotional appeal that can motivate your supporters to get involved.
3. DETERMINE THE VISUAL ELEMENTS: Stylistic choices can make the difference between a supporter remembering your nonprofit or simply forgetting, so be bold and strategic with your selections. Make sure to carefully consider these visual elements: Colors, Fonts, Logo Variations, Taglines, & Photos.
Lastly, while it's important to commit to these characteristics of your brand to create cohesiveness and consistency, it's important to regularly review your brand strategy! Don’t be afraid to subtly update your strategy over time.
COLLAbORATION OVER COMPETITION
By Jordan Lappin
The nonprofit sector is far less cut throat than the for-profit sector, and for obvious reasons. However, even in the dog-eat-dog for-profit world, we hear about companies merging and partnering with one another as a mutually beneficial relationship. In the nonprofit sector, we almost never hear of organizations partnering together to collaborate to better serve their mission. But why? What are nonprofit organizations competing for?
When talking to the leadership teams at different nonprofits, one of the most common things I hear is that they are afraid of losing donors and volunteers to other organizations. These organizations maintain what has been termed “The Hunger Games mindset”. The “Hunger Games mindset” is the idea that you shouldn’t collaborate with other organizations because you might lose funding; and it’s tempting to get pulled into a mindset of scarcity because you’re afraid there’s not enough donors or dollars to go around. The truth is that this mindset is causing more harm than good for your nonprofit organization, and it’s destructive to the concept of making the world a better place.
I would be lying if I said that stepping outside of this “Hunger Games mindset” is easy! You might have different opinions, competing ideas, and varied operational strategies. So how do you break out of the “Hunger Games mindset”? First, you need to be able to see past the competitiveness and see the value in collaboration. Have you ever heard the quote: “alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” The secret to success in the nonprofit sector is to seek collaboration rather than be afraid of losing because of it. Non-profit organizations are all on the mission of making the world a better place. So why not work together? Look for natural opportunities to partner with and share resources for the greater good.
Once you break out of this “Hunger Games mindset”, you’ll be surprised at what can happen to your funding. First, you’ll realize that donors and philanthropists don’t normally just give to one organization. Most have a number of different nonprofits that they give their time, money, and resources to on an annual basis. Your donors and volunteers might also be inspired by the idea that your organization is partnering with another because you want to see change made in the community. Also, when you work with other organizations, you open yourself up to the potential of their donor base!
By Jordan Lappin
It seems like everyone is having difficulty finding people who want to work these days. And it doesn’t matter which industry you are in - the labor shortage is affecting everyone. Nonprofits in particular seem to be having trouble finding volunteers (that is why Triangle Cares exists!), but more importantly, retaining these volunteers. Oftentimes, people will volunteer once or twice, and then the organization will never hear from them again. Here’s how you can avoid volunteer turnover as a nonprofit organization:
Everyone in the nonprofit sector knows that good volunteers are the backbone behind any successful organization. At Triangle Cares, we believe in a twofold strategy for limiting volunteer turnover. First, we place a heavy emphasis on recruiting the right volunteers. If you prioritize recruiting the right people to serve your mission, you’re more likely to develop a relationship with these individuals and keep them around for a while. And secondarily, we believe that each nonprofit organization needs to prioritize engagement with their volunteers in order to build these relationships. So here’s where you should start…
Step One: Recruit the Right People to Serve as Volunteers. Like any other industry, the ultimate goal of your recruitment strategy should be to find the most qualified people for the job. And don’t forget this or sell yourself short just because volunteers are not paid employees! Here are a few tools to implement into your recruiting strategy:
Step Two: Increase Volunteer Engagement! After you’ve recruited the right people, the next step is to let these people know that you value their time and effort! Here are a few things you can do to increase engagement with your volunteers:
By Jordan Lappin
Within the last five to ten years, social media has become fully integrated into advertising, marketing strategies, and driving sales. If you read our blog from last week, you now understand the value of social media for your nonprofit organization. Social media is a powerful tool that has the capacity to scale your nonprofit to new heights - and the best part about it is that it’s free! Having a strong social media presence has enabled Triangle Cares to reach over 200% more people each month since our rebranding. This now leads to the question: Who should be in charge of social media at your nonprofit organization?
The ideal social media manager is multifaceted: creative, a story teller, an excellent writer, video editor, and maybe even a graphic designer. This person also plays an important role as the spokesperson of your nonprofit organization for the digital world. Today, many people use social media as a means of communication through direct messaging. Thus, your social media manager acts as a “facilitator of sales” as they are talking to potential donors and volunteers on your platforms. Your social media manager also acts as a data analyst - this person has to observe social media trends, create content accordingly, and analyze performance data.
Finding an individual that is capable of all of these characteristics can be daunting. And the truth is - you probably are not going to find this seemingly perfect “unicorn”.
Here are three characteristics we think you should hone in on when hiring your next social media manager:
Because most nonprofits operate on a tight budget, many organizations do not have the means to hire someone solely as the social media manager. Tasking the director of outreach or marketing with the role of social media is a great alternative to making sure that you are taking advantage of all that social media has to offer, while also operating within your financial means. (Just make sure that this is not asking too much of them!) Individuals in these roles typically make out as very successful social media managers. However, if your nonprofit does have the means to employ a full-time social media manager, we think this is ideal.
Jordan Hannan and Jordan Lappin