How can we support little steps to catalyze big impacts?

Since 1993, an organization in Maine, Next Step Domestic Violence Project, has supported and empowered people affected by domestic violence, while striving to prevent and end the cycle of domestic violence through education and social change. Next Step offers a 24-hour hotline, safety planning, crisis counseling, appropriate resource referrals, advocacy with other systems, civil legal assistance, court accompaniment, support and education groups, emergency shelter, safe homes, and transitional housing throughout the state.

A year prior to their 25th anniversary, Next Step determined that it was time to begin a large-scale capital campaign to raise $700,000 to address deficiencies in their current shelter. For example, the shelter is not in compliance with the ADA and related accessibility regulation; the current layout does not allow it to serve both genders while providing a degree of separation; the shelter requires lead-paint remediation; there is a lack of quantity and quality office space and a need for sound abatement; and, the layout and facilities are not conducive to clients having companion animals reside with them.

I have been a friend and supporter of this organization for many years with micro grants for tangible items such as furniture and computers. Last year, the executive director told me about the shelter improvement plans and the estimated $700,000 budget for building renovations. I remember she said, “In order to succeed at funding the renovation project, we need to grow our donor base and to do so, raise visibility. We need to reframe and update our messaging.”

Branding for nonprofits is a luxury, a driving force many grassroots, community-and-cause-based non-profits want but just can’t get started. Branding allows these organizations to acquire more resources and have more freedom over how to use them. Branding helps organizations acquire financial, human, and social resources, and build key partnerships. Yet, like Next Step, many non-profits don’t have the time or resources to create, polish and then amplify their branding. Rather, they are abundantly busy providing necessary services.

I learned that Next Step’s website desperately needed an upgrade; they needed to develop and staff a system for informing staff, board, business partners, community members, and survivors about their services, accomplishments, and goals; and they required a media plan that is responsive to current events and challenges. Next Step did not have the staff capacity or expertise to create a comprehensive communications plan internally, so they sought out a local firm with experience in both nonprofit and for-profit marketing and communications. This firm presented Next Step with “a thoughtful, carefully crafted, and generously discounted proposal. For $6,500 (discounted from $9,000), the firm will work with Next Step on a one-year “starter” communications plan, upon which we could build in subsequent years. This would include branding, messaging, website strategy, and creation of print and digital assets.”

Too many nonprofits today miss the opportunity to improve their fundraising options, and thus their confidence, because they don’t have a standout website and focused communications plan. They don’t have these things because they simply don’t have the “starter” funds. When Next Step requested $5,000 to use toward the $6,500 starter communications plan budget--noting that they would raise the additional $1,500 from other sources—I knew immediately the importance of granting a micro-grant. Their quiet, critical and successful work over twenty-five years needed to be shared with a broader audience, and helping Next Step get started made sense.

For 25 years, Next Step has focused intensively, effective and graciously on meeting the immediate needs of those they serve with little extra time for branding, marketing and promotion.  In my mind, it was clear that their plan to take a bold step forward to reframe and update their messaging was not only important and timely, but would propel them forward toward their capital campaign goal and thus, a modern, better shelter.

One small story about the big change that can come from a little grant.

Abhinav Khanal