Steven Sawalich

  Stephen Sawalich


Growing up with parents committed to service provided me with valuable insight about the importance of giving back. Starkey Hearing Foundation, an international nonprofit that gives free hearing aids to people in need, was founded by my stepfather and mother, Bill and Tani Austin, on the premise that “Alone we can’t do much. Together we can change the world.” Partnerships with corporate and high-profile supporters, as well as other nonprofits, have been and continue to play a pivotal role in the foundation’s success.

My fascination with the art of storytelling prompted me to pursue a telecommunications degree with an emphasis on TV production from Pepperdine University. The year after graduation, I went to a conference and heard Richard Pimentel share his personal story. Richard was a Vietnam veteran who helped start disability awareness in the United States, which led to the Americans with Disabilities Act. I was so moved by his emotional journey to overcome adversity and discrimination that I created a full-length feature film, “Music Within,” about his life and work.

That film and my insight regarding the nonprofit world motivated me to develop a docu-series to showcase the positive work people are doing in negatively-perceived areas, as well as to expand the impact of Starkey Hearing Foundation and other philanthropic organizations helping to make the world a better place. “Operation Change,” a 10-part docu-series that aired last summer on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, follows my family as we work alongside celebrities and humanitarians to tackle some of the most challenging issues plaguing our world. In an effort to help engage Millennials, and to allow viewers the opportunity to learn more about the regions and cultures we visited, we launched an online platform along with the series.

Whether serving members or the community, the goal of most nonprofits is to further a cause and make a measurable impact. To remain viable, organizations must do valuable work, be transparent and be able to provide data that showcases success. Five factors influence nonprofit impact:

  1. Leverage strategic partnerships to expand efforts. Partner with like-minded corporate supporters and high-profile individuals to help raise awareness about the work and support the mission. An often underutilized strategy is partnering with other NGOs that share the vision, help expand outreach, and advance the cause.
  1. Engage Millennials to be advocates. In their “2014 Millennial Impact Report,” Achieve (a research and creative agency for causes) reported that Millennials (those born after 1980) are eager to affect social change and support causes they are passionate about, specifically those that regularly demonstrate result-driven success. While still used, traditional models of outreach are being trumped by social platform engagement. An organization poised for long-term success must connect with youthful supporters who will donate, volunteer and help spread the message about the cause.
  1. Create a sustainable model. Develop an internal model the organization can realistically maintain, duplicate and report on. Create a long-term sustainable program to ensure maximum impact. Use the collected data and results as a roadmap to continually improve practices and protocol, as well as to adjust short-term and long-term goals.
  1. Enlist the support of the community. One of the most important keys to success of any organization is to engage the local community and really listen to their issues and needs. Without their support, the project will be set up for failure. Work collaboratively with community leaders to address issues that impact the wellbeing of their community.
  1. Be adaptable. What often limits the success of nonprofits is their ability to be adaptable and conform to the changing needs and requirements of those they serve. In order to have long-term success and support, NGOs must have passionate, innovative teams that can adapt and develop new programs that help progress the organization’s mission.

Steven Sawalich is the senior director of global media and philanthropy of Starkey Hearing Technologies and president of Articulus Entertainment, Inc. He merges a devotion to humanitarian aid with artistic determination, to capture on film emotionally-compelling and thought-provoking human experiences from around the globe. The core of his work is about facilitating avenues of communication and understanding among people everywhere. @stevensawalich

This article is reprinted from Issue #4 of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today!

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