Thursday, January 17, 2013

Nonprofit Rescue: The Pitch

We all have dreams for the nonprofit sector: increased individual giving, more effective boards, simplified government grant applications, better trained staff... Well, one of my dreams for the sector is greater public understanding of the nuts and bolts of how nonprofits operate, and I've got an idea for implementing it: a reality TV show.

So far the only time real, community, grass-roots nonprofits have been seen on reality TV is on shows like the Secret Millionaire. Each week a different successful business person gets in touch with the broader community by masquerading as a "regular person." They wander the streets, find struggling community programs, and get involved. The programs are typically run on a shoe-string by a founder who never collects a salary, but keeps things going against all odds. At the end of the show, the millionaire reveals his or her true identity and writes a large check, saving the day.

This perpetuates many myths that harm the sector. First, that organizations do not need professional, paid management to be effective. Secondly, that all they need to continue operating is for a single major donor to magically show up on their doorstep. Third, and perhaps most detrimental, that an organization which has never had a budget greater than $25,000/year can suddenly accept a $50,000 donation without any capacity building assistance and maintain that level of service once that cash is spent.

My idea is a bit different. Picture Secret Millionaire meets Restaurant Impossible. Restaurant Impossible (like Kitchen Nightmares with Gordon Ramsey) features chef Robert Irvine traveling the country and fixing our restaurants one at a time. In each episode he enters a new restaurant and assesses the food, the cleanliness, the business practices, the decor, and the owner/manager's personal problems and has 48 hours to fix them all with the help of his small team. By the end of the show, the food is delicious, the service is excellent, the walls are painted, the feuding owners are in love again, and the rats have been vanquished from the kitchen.

So, now, I give you the pitch for my new series, Nonprofit Rescue! Here's how a typical episode will run:

In the opening scene I enter the office of a small, neighborhood family resource center. The program offerings are strong - brochures for parenting classes, rental assistance, health care referrals, senior meals, etc., are strewn around the lobby - but there is no receptionist to greet me as I enter, leaving me free to wander around. I find client files open on unattended desks, and finally stumble into the conference room where the board chair and the executive director are fiercely arguing about the budget and why donations are lagging. It's several minutes before they notice me.

Over the next few scenes I meet privately with staff and clients. Clients tell me this used to be a great resource for the community. Now they only come to get a bus pass (when available) so they can go to a different agency downtown where there is better case management and follow-up. Staff are demoralized by the constant fighting and several rounds of lay-offs.

I get to work on the issues with my team of expert consultants. The next scenes are hectic as we cut back and forth between a strategic planning session, a community town hall to find out what services are needed, one-on-one meetings with funders and local elected officials, and the removal (and smashing) of any donated PCs powered by an Intel 286 processor. Between these clips, the board chair and ED each privately complain about each other to the camera. I meet with them each to discuss their proper roles and expectations.

After the final break comes the big reveal of the "new" agency. It starts with board, staff, and community members standing on the street. Our designer pulls a rope that drops the tarp covering their new sign. A new logo is revealed that is warmer and more welcoming than the old one that people said reminded them of the signage at a Soviet prison. We enter and see a well-organized and staffed reception area. Once in the conference room, we give binders to all board and staff with the new Strategic Plan (including a strong, realistic Fund Development Plan), graphics guidelines, privacy policies, Board handbook with member agreements and expectations, and an updated Employee Handbook with clear personnel policies.

The ED and Board Chair are given a template for their monthly board meeting agenda and a simple format for a one-page dashboard report that includes all the pertinent data they need to watch to not fall behind on their goals. The ED and Board Chair embrace; there are tears in everybody's eyes. Consulting has saved another community nonprofit. I wish them well and move on to the next week's challenge.

So, what do you think? Do any of you have any connections at the A&E network to help me set up a meeting? Or, maybe, it's just a dream...

1 comment:

  1. I love this idea! I think a great many people would relate to the show - it'd be a huge morale booster and maybe get conversations started at their own agencies about what they can improve (much like Extreme Makeover did for people interested in remodeling their homes).

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