“The first and second time we applied for an SVP grant, I highlighted all the great things we were doing because that is what we thought potential funders wanted to hear,” states Wendy Church, the Executive Director of Facing the Future (FTF).
“And we got nowhere.”
Very few organizations make it through to SVP’s final funding round on their first try, and FTF was no different. Not one to shy away from a challenge, Wendy chose a different strategy.
“SVP talks about their open, honest relationships and their desire to help nonprofits build capacity. So on the third try … our grant proposal started with one full page of all—and I mean all—the things we needed to fix, change or drop—no successes really, just challenges.”
It worked. In 2007, FTF was selected as an SVP investee.
Facing the Future is an environmental education organization that creates global sustainability curriculum resources, teacher workshops, and service learning opportunities for educators and students. Their positive, solutions-oriented—and we would even venture to say “fun”—resources help students understand how local and global issues impact their lives and how they can personally help build local and global communities.
Their approach is not about getting kids out into the mud for a week once during their educational careers. Instead, FTF challenges students to think about sustainability when studying math, social studies, science and even language arts. It’s about making sustainability part of their everyday thought process. Similarly, FTF curriculums are designed to be integrated into teachers’ existing lesson plans rather than adding another topic to an already packed school year.
Above: Students evaluate the sustainability of their pizza.
In this way, FTF currently reaches 1.5 million students annually (up from 100,000 students just five years ago). With a PhD in Bioresource Engineering from Oregon State University, Wendy loves to track that sort of data. However, when talking about FTF’s collaboration with SVP, Wendy notes that the least tangible and measurable outcome are the relationships.
“For the first year, we weren’t really sure what to make of this SVP relationship. They told us not to be afraid to ask for things, but we certainly weren’t used to asking nor were we used to actually getting real help. Sure, foundations or agencies will tell you to ask for help but they might interpret the request as an admission of a problem.”
It took time to convince Wendy that SVP was there to support FTF, but the support would be useless if both sides of the relationship weren’t upfront and honest about issues.
“Once I figured out SVP really meant what they said, I was ready to drown them with requests!”
Enter SVP Partner David Habib who volunteered to guide FTF through a database redesign.
“That year, my nephew wanted the theme for his 6th birthday party to be the ‘Justice League,’” explains Wendy. “He wanted us to dress up as … superheroes like Batman, Wonder Woman, and Hawk Girl. After working with David, FTF thought the league should add a new member— Database Man.”
David walked FTF through their current and ultimate need, designing a database that consolidated updated information and reports. But David didn’t just design the database and take off into the sunset. He continued to work with FTF staff while everyone got up to speed. Other volunteers who have worked with FTF also stay in contact.
Above: Wendy Church with Facing the Future staff.
“Pam McIlroy helped us with marketing and pricing for about 6 months in 2007, and is still in contact five years later. Jeff Thiel, our lead partner, joined the board near the end of our SVP funding, bringing his astute business mind and talents and he brought on his sister who specializes in corporate fundraising. These are the types of lasting relationships that will see us into the future.”
Probably one of the most beneficial exercises FTF did was with Organizational Research Services (ORS). ORS helped FTF work through metrics assessments and a theory of change that focused their energy.
“After we completed some of this work, I had a couple of informal conversations with Jane Reisman [from ORS] and all of a sudden we were rethinking our entire mission statement. We came up with a few ideas, I immediately took the ideas to the staff and— “bang”—we had a focused and relevant statement that was much better than our old, kind of vague ‘we are going to save the world’ statement. Without the existing relationship, I would have never had the conversation that started the process.”
“Time and time again, we keep seeing how the SVP relationship goes well beyond the funding and the projects.”
These are just a few examples from the 40+ projects FTF tackled in their partnership with SVP. From financial management to human resources, their organizational capacity increased across the board.
At the end of their five years with SVP, FTF has grown in multiple ways, which Wendy summarized in the following table. (For more info on FTF’s growth, check out their recent email update.)
This growth is just the beginning, however. By 2020, FTF hopes to influence over 12.5 million students each year. It is an aggressive growth plan even in a good economy. Wendy, her staff and board know the challenges, but are committed to reaching their goals.
Wendy is confident when she says, “The SVP vetting process gives us a ‘badge of credibility’ in the nonprofit world, which certainly makes it easier for us to open doors that we could not have in the past.” She adds, with a sly smile, “It’s really too bad we aren’t starting a new five year relationship.”
To learn more about Facing the Future, go to www.facingthefuture.org.