One of the greatest challenges of the past generation has centered on the emergence of Millennials into nonprofit leadership roles.
How would Millennials mesh with the organizational structures that were built for previous generations? How would this demographic relate to an industry often focused on big gifts and grants? Could their voice, somewhat inexperienced as it was, be heard above the normal tones found within many nonprofits with deep histories in local communities?
In Mobile, Alabama, a group of young professionals, with a common belief that a big impact on the area’s children could be created by a small motivated group, sought to find a place to plug in. While many within the group had been active in a variety of nonprofits throughout their developmental years in the community, we were looking for something a little bit different.
Our group and others in our network were looking for a way to help on a larger scale. We wondered whether it was possible to have greater impact by supporting the structures that were already in place, but by doing so in a vastly different mentality within our community.
In May of 2012, Fuse Project was established, and in September of that year we received our 501(c)(3) exemption, with a stated goal of supporting tangible, realistic projects that benefit children in the South Alabama region.
Today, Fuse Project is dedicated to providing the spark for innovation, funding and implementation of projects benefiting children along Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Fuse Project invests in initiatives promoting the health, fitness, education and social responsibility of the children. It supports existing philanthropies with specific project ideas and grass-roots efforts by motivated members of the community. Whether it is helping fund an after-school program for underprivileged children, or helping a motivated neighborhood revitalize a local park, Fuse Project is ready to help.
While many groups have a similar vision, the Fuse mantra of “If it’s not WOW, it’s not worth doing” has led to a great connection with the community, as well as fundraising goals uncommon for such a new organization. Whether it is our cornerstone summer Dragon Boat Festival or our Order of Fuse (a takeoff on the Mardi Gras association, so common in Mobile) during the Mardi Gras season, this mantra has guided our organization to constantly reassess the ways that we can create a great experience for participants, all the while raising significant funds for local organizations supporting children.
Fuse Project has enjoyed significant impact in the region by bringing together a style that invites community participation, builds excitement, and carries through by assisting the organizations that provide direct service, like Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Alabama, Soccer for Life (a program started by a student at the nearby University of South Alabama who took examples from his native Zimbabwe and utilizes them to bring access to inner-city youth), an expansion of Pritchard Preparatory School (a private school providing low- to no-cost tuition for students in one of the most economically challenged parts of the South Alabama region), and other exciting projects.
Our group has eschewed traditional fundraisers like 5Ks, annual dinners, and golf outings for events that bring both dollars and interest to the work that we support, including the Dragon Boat Festival, New Year’s Eve parties, Light the Fuse dinners, and Order of Fuse. For example, our Dragon Boat Festival in 2015 had 40 teams of 22 participating, another 5000 people in attendance, and a total of $150,000 raised – all in only the second year of the event! No doubt the 2016 event will shatter the previous fundraising mark. Our goal, by 2020, is to raise one million dollars annually from all of our programs to benefit local organizations.
The financial landscape for nonprofit organizations is changing. It used to be that through partnership with the United Way, the charitable foundation of a local corporation, a few small fundraisers, and dedicated givers, any organization could find success and longevity. But the truth is, since the early 1970s, only 2% of GDP is donated to nonprofits. With this reality, and a growing number of nonprofits (200,000 more in 2015 than in 2012), each organization must be innovative in order to secure their piece of that 2%.
Recognizing that challenge, a group of eight young professionals from Mobile, Alabama, saw an opportunity. With a belief that a big impact on our area’s children can be achieved by a small motivated group, we established Fuse Project as a 501(c)(3) in September 2012. Our goal is to support tangible, realistic projects that will benefit our children. We support existing philanthropies with specific project ideas, as well as grass-root efforts by motivated members of our community. Whether it is helping fund an after-school program for under-privileged children or helping a motivated neighborhood revitalize a local park, Fuse Project is ready to help.
It All Begins With Kids
At its core, Fuse Project invests in initiatives promoting the health, fitness, education and social responsibility of our children. Since 2012, Fuse Project has raised over $300,000, funded sixteen individual projects, and influenced the lives of more than 5,000 children along Alabama’s Gulf Coast. We consider ourselves a neo nonprofit with a singular focus on immediate impact by bringing together local projects for our children. Our five-year goal is to be in a position to fundraise one million dollars per year by 2020.
Our organization is dedicated to providing the spark for innovation, funding and implementation of projects benefiting children along Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Most recently, we have begun refining our focus on projects centering on afterschool programs for kids of all ages in Mobile and Baldwin Counties. Our goal is to ensure that all kids have access to an afterschool program that increases their overall quality of life and to foster a healthy family dynamic for working parents and their children.
Engaging a Cluttered Market
On any given weekend in communities across the country, you will find nonprofits running bake sales, golf tournaments, 5Ks, galas, and the like. It isn’t that any of these programs are bad, but in a world of fast moving, attention grabbing messages, these types of events are quickly becoming antiquated. In a world full of noise and competition, nonprofits have to reframe their approach.
Through our mantra of “If it’s not WOW, it’s not worth doing,” we have decided to create a group of events that will help fundraise for our selected projects and help publicize our cause. We aim to invigorate all age groups and demographics in our area with our events.
Fuse Project has learned that if we engage younger donors, we are attracting potential lifelong donors. Our board consists of eleven young professionals who display a passion and unwavering commitment to help promote our mission and vision. We recruit our board members early and, although we do not require a financial commitment, we ask that they donate time and attend a minimum of 70% of our board meetings. Our cofounders are strong believers in having an A-Team, or an Advisory Board. This A-Team consists of older influential members of our community who might be too busy to join our Board due to other time commitments. We find that we can bounce new ideas off of our A-Team and benefit from the wisdom, past experiences and knowledge that they have gleaned from involvement on other boards or with local organizations.
Fuse Project understands the importance of effective communications and marketing. We aim to reach our donors and volunteers on a regular basis. We know that their time is valuable so we strive to make our email updates concise and to the point. To do this, we use an online platform to disseminate information to our networks, a proven effective source of communication.
Social media plays an integral role in our ability to effectively communicate with our followers and other interested parties. We have recently added a call to action Donate button to our Facebook page and we continue to find that social media is one of the best methods to spread information quickly and efficiently.
Videos play a vital role in our marketing plan. With reduced attention spans in today’s world, videos are one of the best methods to illustrate Fuse Project’s mission and the vision we have for the future of our organization. Most recently, we have created videos that document our annual Dragon Boat Festival and the afterschool programs that we facilitate at local middle schools in Mobile and Baldwin counties.
In 2016, the Fuse Project Board voted to implement a video proposal application process for grant applicants who wish to receive funding from our organization. This new process will allow our organization to properly educate our board members on the organizations that are seeking funding and the scope of the project for which they are requesting funds. In their video, grant applicants must describe how their project will directly IMPACT children in our local community. The acronym serves as a guide for their video proposal.
Palpable (effects of this project)
It is important that we fund specific projects that have an immediate IMPACT on children in Mobile and Baldwin Counties.
Our Order of Fuse society, founded in 2015, is a diverse group of 100 young professionals plus their significant others in Mobile and Baldwin Counties who pay $1,000, with the majority of their dues being tax deductible, to give back to their community in a different way. The members are invited to monthly cocktail hours and three large events throughout the year. At the third and final event, the OOF members vote to determine the local children’s cause that will receive $50,000.
In March 2016, Fuse Project broke ground on its Nonprofit Co-Working Space in downtown Mobile. This space will change the nonprofit landscape in Mobile by fostering a diverse group of nonprofits who will increase their net revenue by 10% in the first twelve months through collaboration, networking and weekly best-practice seminars with other local nonprofits. This co-working space will play a significant role in downtown Mobile because it will be a modern space that is forward thinking for the South Alabama community and will continue the groundswell of momentum for the re-development of downtown Mobile.
Transparency Builds Trust
We realize the importance of being transparent with our financials. We know that our donors want to know exactly how that money is spent. Therefore, we happily provide detailed financial reports on our projects and events to keep our donors educated on the financial stability of our organization.
Since 2012, Fuse Project has raised over $300,000, funded sixteen individual projects and influenced the lives of more than 5,000 children along Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Our annual Dragon Boat Festival has contributed much to our organization’s success over the last three years.
Overall, our organization is results driven and we hold ourselves accountable for each project that we support. We can see the outcome and success rate for each project we have funded. We know that the future of our communities is shaped by the children we support.
Adrienne Golden returned to Mobile, Alabama, her birthplace, to assist in management and operations of a local business after working for a Fortune 500 company in Atlanta. She then became the marketing coordinator for a local accounting firm. Since August 2015, she has been the Executive Director of Fuse Project, managing daily operations and assisting in its mission to help support tangible, realistic projects that will directly impact children in Mobile and Baldwin Counties. Adrienne@fuseproject.org
This article is reprinted from Vol. 3, No. 2, of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today!