Tag Archive: Yodit Mesfin Johnson

Selling and Marketing Your Mission 2.0

“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

Yodit Mesfin Johnson

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


Blog contribution by Yodit Mesfin Johnson, NEW (Nonprofit Enterprise at Work) and guest blogger Michele Lewis-Watts, Michigan Women’s Foundation

The  “Power pipeline” (Crain’s Detroit Business 12/12/20) article got us and some other young professionals we know thinking about our role in the rapidly changing SE Michigan region, specifically in the nonprofit sector.

We all know how this starts; nonprofit board service has typically been a rite of passage. Usually, the “mature”, knowledgeable and typically, deep pocketed individuals in our community were invited to serve on the boards of charitable organizations. It was civic duty at it’s finest for Baby Boomers and they served their respective communities well –most of the time.

The Who

When we look at the leadership of most nonprofit boards now, it’s safe to summarize the composition as well, older folk. In some instances it’s a very elite group of well, older folk and in other cases it’s a group of just, well, older folk. Catch the drift?

While we Gen X, Y and Millennials may not be able to stroke a big check, we can show you a thing or two about fundraising on Facebook! As the Crain’s article stated, we want to be asked to be involved.

Boomers might say we’re selfish, self centered and disinterested in anything other than ourselves.  And while admittedly there is some truth to this, we’d suggest that another more practical reason that we’ve been disengaged thus far (aside from being broke and not being asked to be on boards) is that 25-40 year olds have a lot going on personally and professionally. The younger end of this spectrum is often finishing school, beginning careers, paying off student loans, building credit and credibility, while the older end of this demographic is busy changing diapers, caring for loved ones or climbing the proverbial professional ladder. We may be involved in church or community groups or clubs but rarely are we involved in—or for that matter invited to be a part of the kind of transformational conversations that move a city and a region forward.

The How


Two years ago when we at NEW were asked by a funder to attract younger, more diverse talent to nonprofit boards, we knew we were going to have to meet that young talent where they were.  That’s the reason we used the premise of “speed-networking” as a platform for learning about service opportunities in SE Michigan. Spring/Fall Into Service was our answer to their request. These seasonal events were designed to appeal, in part, to a younger demographic. It seems to have worked as since 2009, we’ve matched more than 60 attendees to nonprofit boards.


At the  Michigan Women’s Foundation, we recognize that it cannot be business as usual and that texting, Skyping, telecommuting, social media, cloud-based systems and the like must be fully integrated into work plans and work styles; that time-intensive “bored” Board meetings are not the only way to make decisions and get work done, that only looking at the richest donors is not the only way to raise money; that having the usual suspects around the table only gets you the usual answers.

In the article, Terry Barclay of Inforum indicated that these generations “don’t write the checks,”—but  we do write checks.  We just write checks of a different size. It is a mistake to ignore that fact and wait for us to be able to write bigger checks before we are invited to sit at board tables or given more responsibility. We give of our treasures, but are ready to give of our time and talents in many different ways.

The Network

Generation X and Generation Y have different value systems. We want to lead and work differently. We seek better balance among our professional, social and home lives and know that the balance is not only possible, but doable. Older generations see this difference as a lack of commitment to work or that we don’t want to pay our dues instead of recognizing how this difference could benefit the organization and the employees of the organization.  As a result more young people are leaning toward entrepreneurship. Why should I work for you when you won’t ask for my ideas or don’t use them when they are suggested.

The aforementioned Crain’s article discusses some of our colleagues who are doing awesome work in the community (shout out to Vince, Austin, Claire, and Josh) and deserved to be recognized. Now we just need more young folks to step up and be called up. We have to make sure that we don’t inadvertently create a new “usual suspects list”; only younger.

And there’s more, recently I (Yodit) attended an event at the Downtown Detroit Synagogue. Detroit’s only remaining synagogue, this 90 year old institution is being revitalized by an almost exclusively under 40 board of directors. Ever mindful to seek guidance from older leaders (Jewish and not) , these young people are embracing cross cultural, inter faith and inter generational collaborations and epitomize what a group of passionate, engaged, and empowered people can do.

Another great project is  the  Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, we’ve partnered with them for this year’s Spring Into Service event because we want to model what we’re asking of our community; inclusion of young talent. We also believe in their mission; to promote an efficient, viable, and inclusive nonprofit sector that supports the growth, learning, and development of young professionals.

Not only does the field need to encourage your children, employees, neighbors and colleagues to get involved in service activities with organizations like those we’ve mentioned, we must be intentional in recruiting, engaging, mentoring and cultivating young talent.  These jewels will inherit the region and deserve to be a part of shaping and transforming what it will look like the baton is passed. There is much to be done in our great state, let’s be sure we have all hands on deck for this journey.

Read the Crain’s article HERE


Michele Lewis-Watts is the Pr0gram Director at the Michigan Women’s Foundation which seeks to help women and girls achieve economic justice experience their communities as safe places value and have equal access to education and training address gender discrimination in all forms and to transform society.

Yodit Mesfin Johnson is the Director of Business Development at Nonprofit Enterprise at Work.  She was the youngest recipient of the renowned International Athena Award for her contribution to the women’s business community. She currently serves on the Michigan Israel Business Bridge and is an advisor on several local boards and committees.  Feel free to contact Yodit regarding any of the advice, tools or services mentioned in this post by email at ymesfin@new.org or via phone at 734-998-0160 ext. 238

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