Day Twenty One: Young Friends

Today I am going to Philadelphia Montessori Charter school to find out more about what they do, and explore the possibility of being a board member. This is an opportunity I found on Serve Philadelphia’s website a few weeks ago. I sent out an email just out of curiosity, and ended up hearing back immediately; having a terrific conversation with one of the managers at the school; and being invited to come in to day for an in-person conversation. So at 1:00 this afternoon I will drive myself out to the area by the airport (always a beautiful place for a school – the woman I’m meeting literally said “when you find yourself on a pretty empty boulevard with lots of car repair shops at girlie dance clubs, you’ll know you’re on the right track”). I’m really excited to go out there this afternoon; as a graduate of Montessori education myself, the idea that disadvantaged children have a warm, cozy, engaging school made for them that doesn’t treat five-year-olds like prisoners or soldiers is really thrilling to me. I’ve seen too many charter schools take that iron-fist approach, and it makes my innards cringe. I have really high hopes for this school, and am keeping fingers and toes crossed that it lives up to my expectations – and that I live up to theirs.

Surprisingly, although I’ve sat down this morning to do research for this meeting  – which I am very excited for – I find myself instead turning my investigative attentions to something else I have on this evening: a thornier bush that keeps inviting me to prick my fingers on its spikes.

Later this afternoon, I will be making a presentation to the membership committee of my Civic Association. I am presenting the idea that we form a Young Friends group. I already put my ideas down in a short packet, but I want to do a little research as well in case I meet opposition. I feel really strongly about doing this, and would be somewhat crushed if told that we couldn’t. Well, actually, let me rephrase that – if they say no I will do it anyway – on my own, outside the boundaries of the Civic – and make them wish they’d said yes :).

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SO! In order to best prepare for this, I asked the Director of Membership – what do you anticipate the resistance will be? That way, I can pre-emptively address their questions, concerns, or distaste before they have a chance to think, feel, or taste it. That’s always my first step when planning a presentation. Some questions she shared with me are:

– How is this group of members different from other members?

– How will the pricing work?

Reasonable enough. In order to get some information into my presentation that addresses these concerns, I first did a google search of “Why do Non-Profits Need Young Friends Groups?” I found this article by a woman who looks a little like a Hot Topic store manager, but I’m going to pull from it nonetheless. Some good points she makes that I can borrow:

  • Adding Young Friends to the mix will recruit new members who will have longevity in the group as members, donors, and advocates
  • Increasing the presence & voice of Young Friends will help us to create programming and initiatives that appeal to this demographic
  • Young Friends have facility with online media & social media, which will help increase awareness & membership

Returning to my Google Search, I found some articles that are a bit more data-heavy. Nice. This led me to discover BoardSource, an organization solely dedicated to providing resources around non-profit boards. As one of my clients has commissioned me to help him set up his board (which I’ve never done before) this looks incredibly helpful! Unfortunately, upon further poking around, I see you have to pay oodles to use it – so I’ve hit a wall there, too. Time to take a step back and reassess what I’m doing.

I’m thinking that instead of finding data in general, it would be good for me to find some stats about our neighborhood, that might be convincing. I went to OpenDataPhilly, an incredible site where you can create reports on all kinds of statistical information – but after getting sucked into a map-generating-vortex for thirty minutes, I realize all the data is 10 years old, and not going to really help me tonight. Although it sure looks substantive and impressive!

So, back to the drawing board. Focus on the neighborhood. I’m thinking about other non-profit groups in the neighborhood. My thought is that if I can show that other groups have Young Friend contingents, then it will be easy to make the argument that these are groups ww could easily tap for support, collaboration, and new members.

Here are the ones I can think of, off the top of my head. I went to their respective websites to find out about groups or programs they have that we could plug into:

Alright, so that gives us some good pools to draw from when recruiting new YF members. Now – what would the point of this group be? I want to revisit the purposes & how this would benefit the WSWCA.

The Young Friends group would have three functions.

One would be to more fully engage our younger members in the operation and activities of the Civic Association, which would create both stronger internal structures, and ties to the community. Activities would incude:

  • Volunteering at community service events
  • Writing for & editing the ePost & Newsletter
  • Attending Wash West Wednesdays
  • Publicizing the work of the Civic Association
  • Sitting on committees, serving as chairs, and eventually being board members

The second function would be to recruit more members to the Civic Association. We would do this through programming designed particularly for this demographic. Doing so would help the WSWCA build capacity by:

  • Increasing membership revenue to the Civic (an estimate of $300 – $1,000 per year)
  • Incentivizing long-term membership within our new members
  • Creating strong internal connections between the Civic Association to the schools and non-profits of the neighborhood

The third function would be to increase visibility of, and positive image of, the Civic Association. 

I feel like I’m going in circles now, just saying the same things over and over. I need to get more tangible, more concrete, more quantitative. But how?

Feeling stuck, I go back to my email to take a research break. As I’ve been trolling around the internet, I just received two emails from the Civic Association concerning tonight’s meeting. It’s like they are watching me . . . Eeek.

It seems that one of the members of the group – also a Board Member – took a look at my proposal and has made the following suggestions:

We now have $10, $35, and $100.

The $10 is for senior, student and disabled.

  • I’d drop the disabled designation altogether; it’s insulting.
  • eliminate the student in favor of a new category:  young friends.  $20, for individual or couple.
  • Retain senior but identify the age.

Retain $35 for household.

Retain $100, renamed Friends of Wash West

New category – $200, named Patron

New category – $250, named 1935 Society

First off, let’s take a second. Why was there a disabled category in the first place? How did that weirdness work? What was the conversation that created that gem, I wonder? Perhaps I’m being dense or something, but it seems really odd to me that it existed in the first place, since the benefits of membership presently seem to include receiving a newsletter and getting a window decal . . . what purpose would making accommodations for the handicapped serve?

Moving on, I think that there should be a distinction between an individual or family. I believe it is reasonable for families to pay more, and I also would be annoyed as an individual if I was essentially paying double or quadruple a couple or family with children was paying.

I’m thinking $10 Young Friends (individual); $20 Young Friends (family); $35 Household; $100 Friends of Wash west; $200 Patron; $250 1935 Society.

Now, I’ve outlined what you “get” as Young Friends member (I think…). But what do you get for the other categories? Why would I donate $250 to this place? I feel like the answer I’ve heard is “because you care about the community, because you understand the importance of a Civic Association,” but if this is how the organization survives, they’re going to get lightheaded from living on fumes mighty soon. Right now there is a passive-aggressive ping-pong conversation between committee members around that very question (it’s always curious to me how grown people use upwards of twenty-five exclamation points or question marks in two-sentence emails to make it REALLY clear, in the absence of facial expressions, that they are feeling a feeling . . .)

I’m gonna get my brainstorm on here, to come in to the meeting with ideas.

I imagine that perks and recognition might go a long way. What could these look like?

  • A special lunch with local politicians.
  • Recognition in our publications.
  • A special article about patrons in our newsletters.

None of these feel particularly convincing. I ask you, readers – what would you suggest as meaningful perks/incentives?

I also wonder – has anyone asked folks – especially those who are in a position to make a bigger donation – what they want from membership? It could be an excellent place to start . . .

In the email Cold War I’m now privy to, a list was just compiled & sent out of “things to consider.” So here are some of the questions they’re asking:

Some issues to consider:

  1. Is it worth changing our categories?
    1. Will we bring in more money than we already do?
    2. Will it attract new members or add to retention?
    3. How will the increased fees be used?
    4. Do we need to budget these increased revenues (if any) before we solicit them?
    5. How do we publicize the changes?
      1. Website
      2. ePost
      3. The Post
      4. Envelopes
      5. How do we advertise the benefits of joining?
      6. What would be the timing to implement the changes?

I think that my presentation answers many of these questions. A Young Friends group would, I believe, bring in a minimum of $300 (10 individuals, 10 families) and a potential gain of $1,000, depending on how aggressively and successfully we recruit. Since we would have natural pools to recruit from within – student associations at Jefferson & University of the Arts, The Collaborative, the William Way Center, the Broad St Ministry, & McCall Elementary School – I think we could meet a goal of 50 individuals (less than 10 from each of those places) and 25 families, which would result in $1,000 extra each year.

Attracting new members & increasing retention is a given, I believe; publicizing the change is an important question to consider, because it also raises the question of how the Civic will be publicized in general. If we have more members who are active in the various organizations I’ve mentioned, this will help us with marketing through folks’ networks, the communities they already belong to, etc.

And timing? I say the start of the new year. It’s a natural breaking/starting point, and would be a logical time for the change to be made.

Interestingly, the question of “what do people get for their membership” is not broached in the above list. I think that’s the biggest mistake. When I think about an organization like the Junior League, here are the things we “get” as members:

  • A path to leadership positions (sitting on and running committees; board seats)
  • Connections to other organizations
  • Connections – the professional opportunities, and to new friends

Alright – I edited my presentation to include some of the projected benefits, clean up the vision & the plans, and hopefully make it feel more concrete and responsive to the questions they’re raising. Thanks for keeping me company while I went through this editing & thinking process. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Now, off to find out more about that Montessorri school by the airport . . .


4 thoughts on “Day Twenty One: Young Friends

  1. Ouch, Hot topic Store manager. That’s actually pretty insulting. Nonetheless, I’m happy you were able to glean some insight from my post. There are actually many resources available to help recruit and train board members both on and off line. Good Luck! -Dania

  2. The public thanks/recognition may be worth more than you realize. On the other hand, lunch w/ a local politician is a slightly harder angle to work as it needs to be a win/win for them, especially since their district is much larger than the area encompassed by the Civic Association.

    Also, for higher levels, it doesn’t hurt to have a tangible “Your $250 buys X/restores Y/etc. Showing how you are specifically executing on their values (ie the reason they give anything) gives them a specific reason to give $250 and not $25 because they understand exactly what that buys.

    Finally, folks living on SSI Disability are on a fixed/limited income like elders and students, so I feel that that designation should remain as an option for a lower supporter fee.

  3. Thank you for your comment, Rudy! I feel ignorant for not realizing that about the SSI Disability designation, but I’m really glad you pointed that out – now when I go to my meeting this evening I can bring that up. I’m also going to steal your other ideas in regards to higher donations. Thanks again!

  4. Pingback: Day Twenty Two: Cycles of Poverty | Civicization

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