A Minute With Cristi Hegranes, Founder and Executive Director, The Global Press Institute
I recently took a minute to sit down with Cristi Hegranes, founder and executive director of The Global Press Institute (which wasn't easy since she was traveling through Africa). Cristi recently was named the winner of the prestigious Young Innovator for Social Justice Prize from Grinnell College.
GPI is an award-winning, high-impact social venture that uses journalism to educate, employ and empower women in the developing world to produce high-quality local news coverage that elevates global awareness and ignites social change. Its annual operating budget is $380,000, and it relies on the philanthropic contributions of individuals, foundations and institutions. The large majority of its funding comes from major gifts, though it also has a robust set of grassroots donors who contribute through events, online campaigns and a Web-based Social Investment Center.
Dane Grams: What are GPI's fundraising strengths and weaknesses?
Cristi Hegranes: GPI's biggest fundraising strength is the quality of our product: award-winning, well-written, ethical news coverage about the developing world. Our fundraising is also helped dramatically by our social impact orientation, our multi-dimensional model for creating impact and a strong fundraising team led by Third Plateau Social Impact Strategies. Our biggest weaknesses are a lack of name recognition and a relatively small budget — though the budget has grown by more than 150 percent in the past year alone.
DG: Any major fundraising difficulties or setbacks?
CH: 2012 has been our single best fundraising year in the six-year history of GPI. But along the way we encountered many of the same setbacks that many small organizations do: grant proposals that went nowhere, funders telling us that our budget was too small for their consideration, a lack of general operating support and a depressing sense that we were beating our heads against a wall. Even now we occasionally run into challenges, such as unfulfilled commitments, but we've diversified our revenue and created strong financial management systems to weather most challenges. I also have good advisors who help me look past the daily ups and downs that are inevitable in fundraising.
DG: Can you share a recent fundraising success?
CH: Earlier this year we reached out to the Nike Foundation, knowing that they fund programs specifically aimed at girls and young women. Our timing turned out to be impeccable, as the Nike Foundation was preparing to launch new "Girl Hubs" in a number of GPI countries, such as Rwanda, and was interested in supporting journalism as part of the programs. GPI was a good match with the Nike Foundation's needs, and the success of our partnership was aided by the strong relationships that we built among our teams. GPI and the Nike Foundation now have a programmatic collaboration under way in two countries. [It] has been a good reminder of the role that luck plays in fundraising: Sometimes being in the right place at the right time makes all the difference.
DG: Are there any things you would do differently in regard to your organization's fundraising?
CH: For our first years in operation, GPI's growth was driven by funding rather than a program strategy. If a donor wanted to give money to open a program in a certain country, I would most likely accept the donation and open a program in that country. This was necessary for growing the organization and demonstrating that our programs worked, but if I could do one thing differently it would have been to turn down some of those nonstrategic funding opportunities. GPI's new strategic plan has helped us clearly understand our organizational priorities and has in turn empowered us to ignore funding that is not aligned with our needs.
DG: What is GPI's fundraising philosophy?
CH: Do great work that has a positive impact on the world. Learn how to talk about the work in a compelling way. Figure out who is likely to be interested in the work, and go talk to them. Thank donors profusely. Exceed their expectations. Make them proud to be supporters.
DG: What advice would you give to other organizations that are similar to GPI in size and operating budget?
CH: I think the Global Press Institute's fundraising philosophy offers some wisdom, so I encourage others to follow it. Also, remember that fundraising is all about relationships. Don't expect to make much headway by simply pumping out foundation letters of inquiry and proposals. Call the foundations. Try to set up meetings. And try to meet individual donors who might be inclined to support you. They're harder to find but easier to build relationships with.