A conversation with Bessie Thibodeaux-Belcher, Chief Development and Marketing Officer, St. John's Community Services
As one of the oldest non-profit organizations founded in the District of Columbia, St. John’s Community Services (SJCS) is committed to supporting and advocating for people of all abilities. SJCS works to advance inclusive communities where every person, regardless of circumstances, has the right and opportunity to live their best life, thereby building stronger communities.
In this Spotlight on our Spool, we talk with Bessie Thibodeaux-Belcher, SJCS’ Chief Development and Marketing Officer, about the different ways in which building a team culture around development supports and strengthens a successful fundraising operation.
By having the full picture, we can make better long-term strategic decisions on who to contact, what to ask of them and how best to contact them. And, most importantly, it helps us be able to talk with donors about their relationship with SJCS based on accurate information.
Thread: We often see that one of the lesser appreciated pieces of development operations revolves around staffing and ensuring everyone in the organization knows how their role also helps fundraising. How have you helped the various departments at SCJS collaborate on behalf of development?
Bessie: I don’t think it is a secret that often times in nonprofits, the development and marketing team and the programs team can have a little tension. But in the best case, these teams realize how interdependent their work is.
At its core, development and marketing exists to ensure that more people can be served by the nonprofit. The more money that is raised, the more that can be invested into growing impact through growth in types of programs or number of programs that can be served. To raise that money, we need the programs team to share their stories with us. We need them to have the resources they need to be able to do their jobs exceptionally.
When I started at SJCS, one of our new programs which serves transitional age youth who have been experiencing homelessness was just taking off. There were immediate needs for furniture and household goods. Our team went to work to get what was needed quickly. I wanted to really help set the tone for the relationship with programs and development – we are here to serve you. Almost a year in, and we have launched a Poshmark site (Emporium 1868) whose proceeds go to provide gift cards to participants in this program; we have a contact at a local thrift store who responds to our last-minute requests for clothing and furniture. And we have a colleague who knows the development team will work hard for him.
Thread: What else are you doing to build a culture across the organization that understands and facilitates fundraising?
Bessie: Here at SJCS we are very lucky to have a CEO and Leadership Team who understand the importance of fundraising. We just added story time as part of our weekly town hall meetings. This allows our program staff to share events or people that have impacted them personally AND at the same times helps feed our need for stories to highlight in fundraising.
Outside of that, our Leadership Team as well as the full marketing and development team took part in a week-long session with PFNA (Philanthropy & Fundraising North America) educating the full team about the importance of fundraising and the dramatic impact successful fundraising can have on the impact a nonprofit can have in its field. That week was just the first step and we will start an internal training and rollout of the work we did. I’m very excited about the future of what we can achieve to build community and ensure that everyone is included.
Thread: SJCS recently combined two separate Bloomerang CRMs. Why is it important to have a single CRM (and thus a single source of truth on donors)? What impact has this had on your fundraising efforts over the past six months? How will having this lead to your future success?
Bessie: The Donor Database – this is one of the most valuable resources a nonprofit has. Unfortunately, some don’t realize just how important it is to keep it clean and up to date. I donate to an organization every month and have been doing so for several years. They, as they should have, asked for my spouse’s name. I can’t tell you how much it frustrates me every month to get the thank you addressed to my husband. He had nothing to do with this donation – I made it; it is my email on file. Luckily for them, I strongly believe in their cause or I would have had second thoughts about continuing the donations long-term.
This is just one example of how bad data management can turn a donor off. And that’s why we were very excited to merge our two donor bases so that we could have a full picture of each donor’s history and relationship with SJCS. This has led to much cleaner data, which has been critical in our fundraising efforts. By having the full picture, we can make better long-term strategic decisions on who to contact, what to ask of them and how best to contact them. And, most importantly, it helps us be able to talk with donors about their relationship with SJCS based on accurate information.
In addition to combining these two databases, we made an investment in a donor database manager who helps to ensure that information is entered correctly and our records are up to date. She also helps manage who has access to data so we can have some control over what is entered. I’m not going to lie, we are still working on the clean-up. In fact, over the past couple of days, I’ve been doing some household salutation updates. It is a time-consuming process, but worth the effort.
And if you are on our list and your information is incorrect, please let me know 🙂
Thread: What advice would you give to other organizations looking for ways to strengthen their team culture and operations around development?
Bessie: I would name four things:
#1: Donors – Thank them, thank them and then thank them again and again. Really get to know your donors. They are the lifeblood of your efforts. The more you know about them, the more you can strategically plan how and what to ask them for.
#2: Data – Get it clean. Keep it clean.
#3: Cross-time collaboration: Take time to meet and listen to your program staff. Build a relationship with them, find out what they need and deliver on it. That will help so much in the long run when you need to go to them for help.
#4: Have a process, make sure everyone knows about it, and make sure your team in following it.