An Interview with Jodina Hicks, Executive Director, UrbanPromise
Headquartered in Camden, N.J., UrbanPromise is a community- and faith-based organization that has the goals of equipping Camden's children and young adults with the skills necessary for academic achievement, life management and leadership. Much broader than a "program," UrbanPromise is a community, and one that has been replicated in Africa; Central America; Canada; and cities in the U.S. including Wilmington, Del., Miami, and underway in Trenton, N.J.
Here, Executive Director Jodina Hicks talks more about UrbanPromise's fundraising strategies.
Fundraising Success: How does UrbanPromise fund its mission?
Jodina Hicks: UP is funded primarily through individual contributions (75 percent), corporate support (9 percent), church support (6 percent) and private foundations (10 percent).
- The church has been a primary vehicle for developing individual donors who are aligned with, supportive of and engaged in the mission of UrbanPromise, particularly churches/individuals in the surrounding 30-mile radius of Camden.
- Special events have provided a strong fundraising venue. Our annual banquet raises approximately $100,000 a year, golf tournament $200,000 a year and other special events are growing in their revenue base.
- Cultivation of individual donors and engagement of these donors in volunteering and ongoing interaction with UrbanPromise have been critical to the development of long-term donors who truly believe in, and have a hands-on experience with, our organization. Volunteers serve as tutors, mentors, boat makers and teachers' aides in the classroom. They host groups of students for special meals, provide Christmas presents and Easter baskets, and provide support to college interns/volunteers.
FS: What are your fundraising strengths/weaknesses?
JH: Strengths are special events, PR/website, engagement of donors in our vision and development of long-term church relationships. Weaknesses we are addressing include grant development (government and private), data analysis and reporting (of programmatic and donor data).
FS: How do you engage donors and other supporters and potential supporters in ways other than purely fundraising efforts?
JH: We engage potential donors (and active donors) in hands-on programmatic/ministry experiences. See the CamdenForward School Partner Program as an ideal funding strategy that engages donors. Through this strategy, individual donors provide $2,500 or more toward tuition for students at our schools. Each partner is matched with a student. They then come on-site and engage in the classroom and over lunch twice per year. They receive cards and updates from their student partners a few times a year. Partners get to follow their students throughout their entire school experience. A lot of love and anticipation is developed through these matches, and it's an extra emotional connection when kids cry when it's time for their partners to leave at the end of partner day. It even makes me teary!
FS: Can you share a recent fundraising success? Why was it successful?
JH: [Our] Christmas emergency drive. In response to a board member's request to do something special for a family in need, we found that we had several families in significant need, so we reached out to a number of board members, donors/partners who are close to UrbanPromise, and in the course of five days we raised $30,000 from about 40 donors, which helped 30 families with food, utilities, housing eviction and Christmas presents.
I believe it was successful in part because people are very generous at Christmas, but also because these particular donors (partners) know our kids well and had an immediate response to help. Most of our help was given within 48 hours of the e-mail request. We also executed the spending immediately and gave the donors immediate feedback (before Christmas) as to how their dollars were used.
FS: Any major difficulties or setbacks you've faced along the way? Things you would do differently with your fundraising?
JH: One cautionary aspect that happened was after a major media event, short-term givers spiked and overinflated the organization's budget. It was difficult to assess the percentage of donors that would continue giving, and the drop-off was much higher than any other giving scenario the organization had experienced.
FS: What is your organization's fundraising philosophy?
JH: It is important to engage funders in being part of the UrbanPromise community through hands-on experiences, ongoing volunteerism, and updated, engaging information and images. UP sees its donors as part of its ministry. Allowing donors to engage/give/volunteer helps them to grow and evolve.
- UP's focus is to diversify funding sources, with individuals from the surrounding community composing the primary giving base.
- UP's goal is to build long-term relationships with individuals and actively engage them. We don't seek one-time/short-term giving.
- Every staff person has a role with fund development.
- It is important to get potential funders on site. If/when they see UP
in action, they are very likely to give and connect to the UP mission.
- Donors receive from our youth, as well as give to them. Youth are part of the fund-development scenario by both giving and receiving from our donor base.
FS: What advice would you give to organizations similar to yours in size and annual operating budget?
JH: Keep an eye on diversification of funding sources, and cultivate long-term funders. Short-term/one-time giving can be damaging, particularly if there is not a clear path to sustaining/replacing short-term opportunities.