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Little Moments, Big Magic – and Money in the Bank

By Elisabeth Anderson on July 18, 2007No Comment

Little Moments, Big Magic – and Money in the Bank
By Elisabeth Anderson, 7/18/07

Rick Tallman is a venture capital guy.  He enjoys money – pursuing it, earning it, making it grow.  A shrewd investor, he’s not quite the type you’d peg for warm and fuzzy.  But of late Tallman has been something of an entrepreneur for kids, serving as Vice President of Fund Development for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado.

Tallman takes risks, and in so doing has reaped tremendous rewards for his organization.  Case in point: he eliminated – yes, eliminated – fundraising events.  Far from shutting down its doors, BBBS Colorado has instead banked a seven-figure surplus.  It has grown from one $25,000-level corporate sponsor to fourteen.  At a mentoring organization whose motto is “Little Moments.  Big Magic,” Tallman is certainly making the most of his moments with corporate donors. 

How?  In a presentation at the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America National Conference in Scottsdale, AZ, he revealed the not-so-secret secret to his success: making those moments stretch into partnerships.  He believes the pitch is critical, and touts an approach that is customized, direct, and focused on the bottom line.  He answers “what’s in it for me?” for each prospective partner, and then makes them, well, an offer they can’t refuse. 

He gets his prospects to a place where No is not an option.  “Do you want to sign up,” he mused, “or do you not understand?” 

Another bit of Tallman-speak: “I don’t care if you hate kids.  This is a great deal.”

He gives corporate donors a feeling of ownership in attacking social problems – in this case, a dismal high school graduation rate and a resurgence of gang violence, particularly among Denver’s teenage boys.  Each corporation funds the services of a particular neighborhood, where impact can be tracked directly and reported back to the funder. 

Tallman makes a positive example of Wells Fargo.  Last year, the bank bought a table at BBBS Colorado’s fundraising dinner.  This year, the now dinner-less nonprofit asked Wells Fargo to put the $10,000 it would have invested in the dinner into adopting a school-based mentoring (SBM) site school instead.  The bank agreed.  Without increasing its financial commitment, the bank has made a value-added contribution, the impact of which can be seen and measured.

Event-lovers fear not; although ticket-and-table-type fundraisers have ceased, Tallman sees donor recognition events as critical to cultivation.  He brings funders together to celebrate their collective achievements in improving the lives of Denver’s youth through mentoring.  No pressure, just a party that reinforces the value of each gift. 

The organization has also bought radio time to thank corporate donors.  It’s a win-win; donors are pleasantly surprised by this extra layer of appreciation, and the nonprofit increases its visibility vis-à-vis the on-air mentions. 

It is this creative, money-smart model that’s driving corporate giving to BBBS Colorado – and other Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies throughout the country.  Corporate donors are taking note of the business-like modus operandi of its grantees.

Indeed, national President & CEO Judy Vredenburgh reinforced how success at her nonprofit is looking increasingly like success in business.  Match growth (i.e., the growth in pairing adult mentor Bigs with youth Littles), revenue growth, and tangible impact measures (i.e., length and strength of match relationships) are what matter most.

The significance of increasing matches and revenue was on full display at the conference’s Mentoring Programs Luncheon, at which the BBBS Agency Best-All Around Performers 2006 were honored.  These 35 agencies achieved top performance results in children served, new matches, revenue, and match closure rates last year.  Among the agency CEOs who accepted?  A former healthcare system executive and an investment banking transplant.  Like Tallman, these leaders are combining their business savvy with their passion for youth development to effect change and sustain growth in their agencies.

Natalie McCormack, Manager of Corporate & Foundation Philanthropy for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, brought it home in the seminar with Tallman.  She instructed agency leaders to think of corporate partners as customers.  In that vein, she highlighted six steps to successful partnerships:

  • Identify customer needs.
  • Present your product as a solution.
  • Overcome customer concerns.
  • Reach an agreement – confirm your “sale.”
  • Fulfill commitments and set expectations.
  • Follow up.

In following these steps, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and its 400+ agencies have generated a slew of satisfied customers.  It is with this attention to partnership that revenue and matches can be maximized – and big magic too.

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