Thursday, February 17, 2011

Cabrini Madness. Cabrini Future.

I’d like to share a few thoughts with readers about the importance of the current Cabrini Madness Fund Raising Campaign.

Cabrini Connections is a volunteer-based organization. I’ve led it since 1993 after leading the Montgomery Ward/Cabrini-Green Tutoring Program from 1975 to 1992. *see timeline.

Until 1990 I was a volunteer myself, with a full time advertising job. Every year for the past 35 years I’ve made an effort to enlist other people to share the responsibility for helping inner-city youth and workplace volunteers connect in a meaningful and life-transforming process.

When we became a non-profit in 1990 this meant we also had to recruit volunteers to serve on a Board of Directors, which is required for non profit status, We also had to find volunteers to help with raising the funds needed to operate. Our first Directors were people who had been tutors/mentors. Over the years others have come as a result of relationships with incumbent board members. Some still have started out as tutors/mentors, such as Ray Dowdle, Victor Trotter, Mike Hayes and Mike Ozmeral.

Our Directors are no different than any of the volunteers with Cabrini Connections. We don’t have people who come from wealthy families or who lead big companies and can control donor decisions. We’ve relied on advertising and network-building to tell our story and find new donors every year. Yet we know that good fund raising is a result of good relationships and family ties.

Over the years we’ve had the bad luck to loose some of our strongest supporters, such as the Montgomery Ward Company and HSBC North America due to their own business conditions. That means instead of growing revenue each year we’re often struggling just to replace money that won’t repeat from the previous year. This year for instance, we will need to replace $20,000 given by HSBC North America in 2010 which won’t repeat in 2011.

It’s this inability to keep major donors involved from year-to-year that makes philanthropy such a difficult model for building long-term organizational success. Read more about challenges facing non profits.

I’ve had many people help me in my 35 years of leadership. In 1978 one adviser said “If you don’t write your plan on paper, you don’t have a plan.” Thus, I’ve written down the reasons we offer tutoring/mentoring, the strategy, and what it takes to be successful. However the number of people who actually read this each year was pretty small because of limited ability to make copies available to a large network of people (and lack of time/interest). With the Internet I’ve put many of my ideas and the annual plan on the Internet so anyone can look at it, with the goal that more people will share ownership and responsibility for our success. We still don’t have many people reading this, but it is now available to anyone who is interested.

What does this have to do with Cabrini Madness? Everything.

This event has enlisted more students, volunteers and alumni in telling friends, coworkers and family about what we do and asking for donations than any other event we have offered. As a result, more people are beginning to look for information to show why a program like this is needed and how we show that donors should support us when there are so many other causes in the world demanding donor attention and investments.

I hope that means more people will read the articles I write at and more people will take time to review this animated map showing the information we share on our web sites. As you build your own understanding, you’re better prepared to tell others.

However, asking people for money is only the first reason that Cabrini Madness is important.

We need to be building a network of volunteer and alumni leaders who can support any future staff who join the program. While El and Bradley are doing a great job, they may choose to go to other jobs and careers (especially if we can’t find the money to pay them or provide adequate working conditions and support for their efforts.)

In the past when we’ve had leadership transition, I’ve been here to help recruit and train new staff. I’ve drawn from the annual plan that I’ve written to provide a structure that new people could use as they grew their own understanding of their role as a leader.

However, I’m 64 and can’t be counted on to be here for more than a few more years…if that long. Thus if we are to continue to provide a safe and supportive place where volunteers and teens can connect, and that continues this connection into alumni years, we not only need to find secure funding that can attract and keep people like El and Bradley with us, but we also need to build a volunteer leadership corps that will provide us with program coordinators, group leaders, fund raisers, and Directors who can work together and who have a history with the program and a passion for what we do, and who have a deep understanding of the strategy and resources of the organization.

This volunteer leadership will continue the traditions of Cabrini Connections and make the hiring decisions that give us new staff and Directors in the future.

I feel my role is to coach a new generation of leaders who will support the continued operations of Cabrini Connections, and who will help make sure that programs like Cabrini Connections are available in all poverty areas of Chicago and other urban areas. The ideas I share on the Tutor/Mentor Institute serve that purpose.

As you brainstorm ways to motivate friends to provide donations to your Cabrini Madness team, realize that the cost of space, insurance, technology and utilities alone is more than $100,000 each year. We must find grant makers and benefactors who will provide major gifts each year--as well as continually growing the list of people who made donations of $5.00 to $2500--from among the people we talk with as we compete for Cabrini Madness Donations.

Use this chart to develop your outreach strategy and prioritize who you try to share information with. It shows that the people in your immediate network are connected to other people in their own network. And some of these people may be connected to people who can make major gifts. These are the people we need to be reaching. We need to find ways to show them why we are important and why they should invest.

This is an on-going process of learning, network-building and relationship building. It requires the involvement of many people, including our alumni and their families, not just myself and our small paid staff or the volunteers on our Board of Directors.

Cabrini Madness and events like this will determine what Cabrini Connections will be in the future....or if it will still exist 10 years from now.

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