“Financial sustainability is, without a doubt, the most pivotal issue for nonprofit organizations for the next decade. We’re seeing many more organizations in financial distress.” — Kate Dewey
Headlines and quotes like these are why last year, Rob Marshall, Founder of R. Marshall Performance Company and I hosted a workshop for area nonprofits titled Selling and Marketing Your Mission.
In that first session, our goal was to take nonprofit leaders through a process that would help them:
- Clearly define their current mission, so they could be thoughtful about their “value proposition”
- Define (for themselves) their potential or existing products and services
- Demonstrate how those products and services impact or benefit others
- Determine how those products and services impact their organizational mission
An example of the process comes from the Detroit Downtown Youth Boxing Program (DDYBP), a nonprofit (officially three years ago) now in its seventh year. The program develops good citizenship in urban youth through a demanding boxing program while offering strong academic support and a connection to the community through voluntary service.
A boxing program in Detroit! Can you imagine the challenges they faced in trying to get donors to wrap their heads around a program that seemingly encourages an aggressive sport for kids– in one of the most violent communities in the nation? You guessed it! They receive a lot of flack for this.
However perplexed donors may have been, there’s no doubt the gym is making a difference. The facility is located in an area of Detroit formerly known as Black Bottom, a once thriving, now vastly vacant area on the city’s east side. The neighborhood has a 30% graduation rate from high school. The kids enrolled in this program have a 100% graduation rate and have ALL gone on to college.
Because of these tremendous outcomes, new donors have stepped up in recent years to support the gym. This is good for the gym, but times are still tight. Like so many of us, the need for sustainability continues to loom in the background of the roller-coaster-like balance sheet.
Last year, along with a committed volunteer, DDYBP staffers started thinking about other sources of revenue. If their mission was to develop strong kids through civic, academic and wellness programs, who else might be interested in those activities? What “service” did they have that people other than the kids could use?
Well, it just so happens that there’s a bigger “wellness” movement happening in Detroit. People are biking together, working out on the Riverfront and doing Yoga and Pilates for the first time. In the wake of the national health crisis, coupled with a convergence of young people on Detroit’s Midtown and Downtown areas – citizens have been trying to get healthy. Making Detroit ripe for…. you guessed it – boxing lessons! Well, not really boxing lessons more like personal training and exercise with Coach Khalil, who runs the gym.
When we asked gym’s leaders “how their product could benefit others,” they quickly realized that there might be an opportunity to take advantage of the fact that the gym was empty most mornings (so they didn’t have to infringe on existing programming). There is a demand in the City for non-traditional workouts (something they were already doing with the kids), and a potential fee-structure that incentivized return business or subscription-like classes which would help address cash-flow challenges that many nonprofits face.
All sounds good huh? There are still challenges. The gym isn’t in the best neighborhood. They’re moving soon. The organization is still relatively young. All things we can relate to. We’re continuing to track this organization, and hold their hands as they build this enterprise into their organization. You can keep up to date with them here.
Later this month, Rob and I are reconvening with last year’s participants. We’re hosting a 2.0 version of our session. We want to lift the hood up on some of their early efforts towards sustainability and see how we can help with the business model, sales strategies, customer acquisition strategies and general operational strategies. If you’d like to join us, register here.
Finally, here’s what a recent customer said after participating in one of the gym’s adult training sessions:
“A friend of mine was throwing a “Friday Night Fights” event that got some women together to learn boxing skills at a gym. I knew the proceeds would go to a youth program the gym has, but honestly I kind of just went to support my friend. I expected to hit the punching bag a few times and drink some wine lol. I did NOT expect to bust my a$% working out for over an hour, do crazy intense drills and get in the ring (exhausted) for about 3 rounds. What the kids do on their normal days in the gym was 5 x longer than what we did. They run 3 miles every day, jump rope, do jumping jacks, tire drills to test their balance and stamina, squat drills to test their stance and coordination…the list goes on. Then they spar with each other for five 3-minute rounds, on top of doing their homework, getting tutored, eating dinner, and doing volunteer work. Every…single…day. Two girls in the program and one little boy were there. They were super excited to show us what they do and took so much pride in having this place to workout. Learning about them and the other kids that use the facility really touched my heart and that’s what I wanted to share…
In their computer room, the walls were lined with pictures of some of the kids. When I asked one of the girls why some of the boys got their pictures there, she proudly pointed out each one, knew their name and told me the boxing level they all made it to. Almost all of them were ranked in the WORLD. One particular kid almost made the Olympic team and apparently decided that instead of boxing professionally he now wants to be a doctor. The stories for all of the boys were equally impressive. We all know the issues rampant in our community, particularly with boys, and to know the impact this one gym is having not just on things like their esteem, but also their ability to go to college and see a future beyond whatever boundaries they have- real or imagined- was nothing short of incredible. Not to mention the gym, in existence for 7 years, was founded by one guy and now is run by him and one other person. I’m going back – hope you’ll join me.” — J. Brooks
Written by Yodit Mesfin Johnson, NEW’s Director of Business Development. Don’t miss “Selling and Marketing Your Mission 2.0″ on Tuesday, September 24, 2013 at the NEW Center. Register here.