#TweetCottage: How a weekend of fun revealed the needs of small nonprofits

publication date: Sep 9, 2013
author/source: Ligia Peña

What happens when you put nine professional female fundraisers together in a beautiful lakeside cottage for a relaxing weekend? They all want to work for free, of course!

That’s how a group of friends spent part of a weekend this past August – relaxing, sharing stories and giving back to the profession that has given so much to them. In the spirit of being philanthropic, a contest was held offering professional services pro bono during the weekend (coined #TweetCottage and #TweetCottage 2: check out the Twitter threads).

The premise was quite simple. Small nonprofits with annual fundraising revenue below $1 million, located anywhere, could submit a proposal for any of the following: a review of the organization’s fundraising plan; website review; development of a social media plan; development of a board engagement strategy; critique and recommendations of communication tools; or the development of a donor recognition and stewardship plan.

And the winners are …

Using only social media and posting notice about the contest just a few days before the deadline, we didn’t expect much of a response. It therefore came as a tremendous surprise when 30 organizations submitted their applications and supporting documents! After much deliberation (and a Google+ hangout that included wine), the group decided to select two nonprofits: The Hamilton Arts Council and The Rose Centre for Young Adults with Disabilities.

Perhaps not surprising was the apparent lack of fundraising expertise amongst many of the applicants. In most cases, the one or two staff people (or board members when there were no staff at all) were fundraising off the corner of their desks.

Universal challenges

We noticed some patterns in the applications. These organizations often mentioned the following challenges: lack of funding for core operations; one person shops having to deliver services and manage the operational needs of the organization at the same time; the inability to pay consultant fees; and having dedicated board members who had the will to fundraise, but didn’t know where to start.

These comments got everyone at the cottage talking and thinking about the role professional fundraisers and consultants can play in helping these small shops get over the start-up hump.

Go and do likewise!

Our ideas included:

  • Continuing the tradition and spirit of #TweetCottage;
  • Encouraging other fundraisers to set up their own #TweetCottage (we’d be very happy to provide guidance!);
  • Finding a common set of needs and bringing small nonprofits together to learn, both from each other and from experts volunteering their time (for example, the majority of applicants mentioned the need for a fundraising plan, and it would be easy enough to provide some training in that area);
  • Offering a ‘fundraiser in residence’ program for small nonprofits (perhaps there is a progressive foundation out there willing to fund such a thing); and
  • Providing a fundraising mentoring program specific to small nonprofits.

There is certainly more we can do as a sector to help these struggling nonprofits who play such an important role in our community.

One of the many beautiful things about this volunteer initiative was the response from other professionals in the nonprofit sector. Many lamented not being part of #TweetCottage and all the fun! But, more importantly, many reached out to the group and offered to take on projects that we were unable to accommodate during our weekend. Coordination efforts are ongoing to connect that ‘Army of Goodness’ with the nonprofits in question.

All work and no play – not a chance!

Before we end, there’s one great need that we haven’t mentioned yet: that’s the need for hard-working professionals to kick back, relax and enjoy the cone of silence that comes along with something like #TweetCottage. We had discussions about job satisfaction, personal challenges and ways to bring balance to our lives. No subject was taboo and we all left the weekend feeling energized and empowered.

So, if you’re a fundraiser, marketing expert, website designer, grant writer – whatever expertise you may have, we encourage you to join our #TweetCottage revolution in whatever way you can. By offering support to a small nonprofit, you may just change someone’s life.

Signed, all the #TweetCottage women:

  • Leah Eustace, Chief Idea Goddess, Good Works
  • Emma Jenkin, Philanthropic Services Coordinator, Toronto Community Foundation
  • Sylvie Labrosse, Manager, Fundraising, Community Living Toronto
  • Tania Little, Director of Development & Partnerships, Food Banks Canada
  • Samantha Laprade, Director of Advancement, Boys & Girls Club of Ottawa; Marketing Director, Gryphon Fundraising
  • Daniella Mailing, Program Director, Small Change Fund
  • Clare McDowall, Social Media Expert, Socially Good + 317 Consulting
  • Ligia Peña, Director of Development, Montreal Oral School for the Deaf Foundation
  • Amy Sept, Marketing & Public Relations Expert, Nimbyist Communications
  • Holly Wagg, Philanthropic Counsel, Good Works

P.S. You can reach us on Twitter @TweetCottage

P.P.S. An extra special thank you to the #TweetCottage cottage sponsor Leah Eustace, and wine sponsor Paul Nazareth.

Photo by Leah Eustace

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