Whether you’re a seasoned nonprofit or just getting started, it’s important to learn the concept of “failing fast.” Getting to a “no” quickly can help you achieve success and grow rather than limiting yourself and what you can do.
On this week’s episode I spoke with Diana Zhang, CEO, and Co-Founder of Neighbor Share, an organization that offers “micro-donations” directly to those who need them. Her organization gives contributions of less than $400 to people whose lives could be greatly affected by this contribution.
Diana’s background is in finance so we had a great discussion about fundraising strategies, strategic partnerships, and her plan to scale her organization nationally. We discussed how the quickest way to achieve that scale is to fail quickly to gain insights into what’s not working so you can move on to new opportunities faster.
This was a fascinating conversation and I hope you enjoy it.
Go do SOMETHING. Donate, volunteer, dip your toe in and just get going.
Listen to the podcast here:
Failing Fast for better results with Diana Zhang from Neighbor Share
Hey, everybody, Stu here. Thanks for joining me on this episode of relish this. Maybe your nonprofit is seasoned or perhaps you’re just getting started. But have you considered the concept of failing fast? It’s something that Diana Zang, and I chatted about. And she is the co-founder and CEO of a really interesting organization called neighbor share. And they create opportunities to give what a lot of us might call micro-donations to people directly to people who need it. So they’re really looking for people whose lives could be changed with a contribution of fewer than 400 bucks. And they’re trying to go nationwide. It’s pretty cool, what they’re doing. And the concept is really interesting. But one of the things that we talked about was this idea of just trying to get to yes or no as quickly as possible on the activities that you’re doing is a nonprofit. She has a background in finance. She’s really doing some cool things. I hope you enjoy the show. We had a really fun conversation. So here we go. Diana, thanks for being on the show today.
Thanks so much for having me, Stu. I’m really excited to be here.
While it is entirely My pleasure. I’m really psyched to hear what you’re up to a neighbor share. And elsewhere. It sounds like you’ve done a lot of work in the nonprofit zone. And we’d love to hear all about it.
Oh, absolutely. I’m really, really excited to jump in for sure.
So yeah, Tom tells us all a little bit more about neighbor share and what you’re up to over there.
Yeah, absolutely. So, so neighbor share is a startup nonprofit. And, you know, we were really born out of the pandemic. You know, like, what had happened was my co-founders and I have a small initial team of volunteers. You know, we really started this whole effort with a question of, how can we get direct help to the people who need it the most in our communities when they need it? And it was in reaction to you know, this was literally last spring, where were, you know, sort of like the beginning of COVID, when we were still saying horrible things to each other, like, Oh, I’m sure I’ll see you in a couple of months and be back I still remember all that viscerally. Right, and, and then at the same time, I just remember watching with horror as the headlines started coming in. Right, we’re like, even just a few weeks into the pandemic, the sort of like the economic fragility that exists out there in our country just became very apparent. And basically, what the pandemic did was released, like an entire avalanche of need that was like, always underlying the surface. Right? And so we were basically galvanized by this watching of our communities fall apart around us and, you know, really jumped on once again, this question of like, how do we just go direct help to the people who need it when they need it. And we ultimately decided to do this by empowering what we call our communities, frontline heroes, right? So think the case managers and social workers at your local nonprofit could be the teachers at the schools, eventually can imagine us expanding into the nurses at hospitals. But you know, we basically wanted to really empower the folks who really had that intimate pulse on our communities, and have that really, really strong understanding of when and where the need was happening, and just as importantly, where it was slipping through the cracks. So that’s what neighbor share does. We partner with the frontline heroes at just really wonderful nonprofit partners all over the country. They help us identify pivotal needs of $400 or less that would otherwise go unmet. And then it’s really our job on the neighbor share and to really work to get resources directly back to those families to help them through those pivotal moments. The high-level overview of our model, but I’d love to go through more into it.
Yeah, so these middle People are, are on the front lines, and they’re really identifying individual cases that would be good candidates for your program. Is Is that correct?
That’s exactly right. You know, like, because we, you know, when we started out with that question of like, how do we just go help folks in the moment they need it, you know, we realize that identifying these real-time leads at like that real individualized, the grassroots level is actually really hard. Like, if you’re the typical donor, walking down the street, and that was me a year ago, right? And walking around and be like, Hey, I just love to help a neighbor, I’d love to have someone in the right moment, I, you know, you come to realize that you don’t actually know where that need is happening, right? Like you actually can’t, but I really need his boots on the ground to do that, right. And so our whole model was based around this insight of like, why not go empower the boots on the ground who know, right, and that’s why we call them our frontline heroes, because they’re already out in the frontlines. Identifying those needs partnering with our community members, and, you know, working their butts off ready really to pull together any and all resources that are available around in our communities to help folks through through moments of need, right and, and then what happens on unfortunately, is that a lot of needs still end up falling through the cracks, because, you know, you end up where it’s the, hey, for whatever set of reasons, the reasons that government assistance programs taking forever to approve your application, or, you know, oh, geez, like, you know, you have an unexpected $300 car repair, but I don’t have a program or a fund called Let’s go help you pay for a car repair. And so we really want to create a new resource for our frontline heroes to help in these moments. And, you know, and once again, just create almost like this extra layer of safety net for each other. And it’s almost spirit of neighbors, helping neighbors to really help folks through through those through those times.
That’s great. So how are you getting the word out to these frontline heroes? Where do they find out more about you? Or how do they how do you get first contact with with all these people who, who might have access to others who are who are really in need of assistance?
I mean, great, great questions, too. I mean, it’s interesting, because you know, as a reminder, we are startup, right, like, so we started about, you know, a bit over a year ago, at this point from scratch, right? Like, we didn’t have a website, we didn’t have a name. And we definitely had no brand recognition or track record, right. And so the way we really got started was, you know, after doing an initial very small pilot with some, you know, nonprofit organizations in my local community, where I had sort of relationships with and whatever else, as really started thinking through a broader expansion and a bigger version of a proof of concept, we, you know, what I did was I basically recruited a team of volunteers, and we just started reaching out, like, we literally bought a GuideStar account. We filtered for direct service nonprofits, that were highly rated all across the country. And we just started emailing folks and sharing sort of our mission and our model and our intent. And, you know, really seeing if folks would be willing to get on the phone with us or get on zoom with us, so that we can sort of talk to them a bit more about our model, prove that, look, we’re real, we’re not scammers. We’re just very passionate volunteers here who, who really believe in this model and this mission and and then via that through a lot of I gotta say, like sheer just sort of like elbow grease in the beginning, right to get us going is how we sort of like got our initial several batches of partners. And at this point, as we started to, like build a bit more track record, ittle bit more network and whatever, I think it’s, it’s, you know, it’s been, we’ve been sort of starting developing with like a waitlist of organizations that have started being becoming just introduced to us were reaching out to us on their own after having heard about us through through our network.
That’s great. So how was your program funded? Is it Are you are you getting grants have? Is this donation funded? What’s the what’s the model there in order to kind of fund all the good work that you’re doing?
Absolutely, I would say there’s like two main sources. So one from a pure like, in the moments when we as an organization do need to spend dollars, right, whether it’s to fill out needs or to invest in, you know, one of our sort of, like, business building type of type of efforts, you know, we, you know, we are lucky to have a really supportive board that that we built out through time to help us with some central fundraising. So I’ve developed sort of, you know, a mini but it’s a start like a mini war chest to sort of get us going. Right. And then the other piece has been, and I know it’s like a sort of like an odd answer to your question, but the other piece has been just really via the sheer power of our just incredible volunteer team. Okay, now, like once again, no neighbor share didn’t exist at all over a year ago, and about 99% of it has been built the just the really passionate and generous efforts of 30 some odd volunteers spread across the country, most of whom I’ve never actually even met in person yet because organizations built during COVID, which is like so bizarre, but you know, we’ve been able to keep our own had really, really low as a result, because we’ve had just these awesome volunteers who come in, who lend their expertise from their day jobs, as we like to call it, and they come in and built, you know, it’s been a really interesting experience where, you know, I come from a financial management, corporate background, I’m used to running teams that are paid, etc. And these days, I find myself, you know, running a real organization with real org charts, etc. And I just don’t happen to pay any of them. You know, we signed them up with real responsibilities and with real freedom to create and build. But, you know, they do it as sort of their passion project. And I really consider that to be a huge source of, quote, unquote, funding for us, because we’ve never been able to make the progress that we have without just that sheer power of our of our awesome volunteers building alongside with me.
Yeah, gotcha. That’s great. I mean, I think that that’s something that gets discounted a little bit is just the kind of the the labor component that that goes into these things where that, you know, seeing that as a financial contribution is, is kind of a unique perspective, I think.
Absolutely. I mean, I like to think of it this way, like, I would never be able to afford the level of talent we have in our volunteer bench. Okay, right. Like, these are top tier product designers, engineers, marketers, content writers, like what have you like, once again, we have a full sort of like, organizational structure, okay. talented folks are working at top tier firms, and then who once again, have just loved their talents to help build out neighbor share. And if we were to budget those numbers out, and whatever else, like I’d still be fundraising right now. Versus talking to you about the progress we’ve we’ve been able to make, you know, it’s important, really important sort of ingredient for us for sure.
Yeah, that’s amazing. And so, when you consider the you’ve mentioned, the, you know, less than $400 need, are those needs being contributed in a variety of different ways in terms of not just, you know, cash donations to, or cash contributions to people who need that money, you know, like you said, to fix fix that car, for example, but actual labor donations,
yeah, it’s mostly in the form of money right now. And then the way it works is, you know, once we’ve raised the money to be able to fill a particular need that’s been identified by a frontline hero at a partner organization, we actually in current state, ask our partner organizations to sort of do them the distribution of money faster than they were in need on the ground. And the reason why we do that is we realize that in the same way that we’re relying on their expertise to identify that moment of need, and you know, right to get the right need at the right moment, we’re also really relying on their expertise to figure out the best way to distribute those funds to to the neighbor in need on the ground. Right? Right. So some folks will literally just take neighbor, share cash, put it in an envelope and be like, here you go, like, please go take your car, please go, you know, please go sort of, like unlock that last mile type of thing that you need to, you know, really start your new career. So many different types of cases, I’d love to go through with you. And then there are others, though, that would be much more comfortable distributing that in the form of a gift card or distribute that in the little form of here’s your winter coat. Right. And so, depending on just the nature of an organization, that they are in the the nature of population that we help, right. So the ultimate sort of help comes in actually many forms, but the way that neighbors or distributes to our partners is cash.
Okay, that’s great, I was really interested to hear exactly how that worked. I had someone on the show last year, actually, who was talking about how people love to give gift donations, so you know, Toys for Tots, or, or, you know, things of that nature, they like people like to go out and shop for the for the gift. But a lot of these organizations have such great relationships with material distributors, that they can get more, they can make that dollar kind of go a lot farther. So it’s kind of cool that you’re tapping into a variety of different opportunities there in order to help help people out I think that that’s, that’s an interesting way to go about it, where you’re, you’re really trying to get the biggest bang for your buck. In every in every interaction.
Right. And I appreciate you saying that. And you know, once again, our stance is really all about empowering the experts that already out there. Right? And so it was like really important for us to design a process and the technology, etc. That would be you know, like, as low friction as low overhead and bureaucracy as little red tape as possible. And really be you know, it’s like the vision I have my mind is like we’re like the Batphone for our frontline heroes, right? Because like they’re already all very busy. They’re all over capacity and under resourced. And so it’s all about the how do we efficiently get these resources into their hands so they get can get a to commission team members on the ground with giving them the freedom and space to also use our expert judgment on the best ways for how, right?
Yeah, that’s great. So tell me a little bit about your background in finance and how that how you how you’re leveraging that to, to, you know, move into this non nonprofit space.
Yeah. Um, so, as I like to describe it, you know, my normal day job is actually as like a 15 year executive at a hedge fund based out here in Connecticut. Okay. And, you know, the, the fact that I’m now speaking to you, as the co founder and CEO of a nonprofit was very much a leap of faith that was, you know, amongst all the things that were unexpected for us in 2020, this was one of them for me. Where, you know, once we, you know, that group of volunteers and I, that I was describing earlier in the conversation, once we really got going and started driving this and building this as sort of like a, like a side passion project nights and weekends passion project, I just, I just really became passionate about our mission. And I love the challenge of figuring out how to really build this thing to scale and hopefully over time, to a level of impact that really matters for this country. And so I ended up taking a sabbatical from, from my, my day job, my paying job to, to really just focus on building this thing out full time. And, you know, I would say that, you know, there’s been so many things in my, in my sort of management, executive background, you know, from the, from the for profit side that really applied here, like, it’s, it’s really all about building and running an organization, right, like, I think through all the things that I normally would have to think through as a, you know, as a senior manager in my old job, right, it’s like everything from how do we recruit, and motivate and retain our awesome volunteer staff to what’s the next pivot in our strategy? You know, based on what we’re seeing and building and the feedback we’re getting to, okay, how do I go about building my board now managing my board now reporting back to my board, and then hey, making sure that I get the help from them that I need, etc, right. So it’s like every ingredient is actually not that different, however, is, of course, in a very different context. So like, you know, I’ve been I, it’s been actually very, it’s been, it’s been almost like a call it like, career wise, very satisfying to see sort of all the training and development I’ve gone through as a professional in my previous 15 years, and being able to translate it into something with social impact. Because I everything that I learned in those previous years, they really all apply here. And it’s been really cool to see it come together and really also test myself on the Hey, was I able to really build something from scratch in this way, and whatever. So it’s been really great.
Yeah, that’s great. I just, I’m really excited to hear how the financial piece comes together in the nonprofit space. Because I know that that’s a challenge that a lot of nonprofit leaders and organizers have is that financial component of it. And one of the things that we bump against with marketing is this idea that every dollar, you know that every dollar that’s not spent directly on the quote, unquote, mission is $1. You know, taking away from that mission, and really trying to adjust mindsets to believe that that investment in marketing, for example, is actually contributing to that to that mission. Because you know, the more that you can expand it, the more that you can get people on board with it, and the more work and help that you can provide. And so, you know, there’s a there’s a financial mindset shift there as well. So it’s kind of cool to hear how you’re applying all of your all your experience in in, you know, in the for profit financial world to your nonprofit, that’s really cool.
Yeah, no, absolutely, still, and I love how you’re saying that. Because, you know, it’s interesting, like, you know, the board, and I have debates about this all the time, as we’re talking about our budget and our Future Fundraising targets and whatever else. And then to your point, you know, like, I think, you know, the way that we’re trying to build labor share is like very much how we would build a for profit organization, right, it’s up to your point requires investment. Right? Like you said, like, you have to invest it not counted as quote unquote, overhead, like, we really call it investment, because that’s what it’s about, right? But then you have, like, then you gotta push and be tough on each other on what’s the ROI of that investment? Right. Like, at the end of the day, it’s all about the like, what is the bang for your buck? And do we ultimately think it will help us progress on our mission forward? And if so, if the logic is there, and the business case is there, then it’s a great investment? Right? It’s not a waste of dollars, right? Um, but then of course, if it doesn’t pass the bar, and this is where you have to be tough with each other and honest with yourself on like, was this like a good idea or just a kind of okay, idea that’s not actually going to bring much in return for the ultimate mission. Those are the types of conversations and things that I think you got to stare at.
Yeah, we talk a lot about failing fast. So doing a lot of a lot of you know, quick maneuvering, testing and iterating if if that, you know if that test feels like it’s bearing fruit or proves that it proves to be bearing fruit, and then, you know, and then if it’s not make sure you just get out of it as quickly as possible, as opposed to, you know, being a year down the road and saying, Well, why are we still doing this? So, you know, that is definitely a component of, of, you know, a marketing or, you know, any any sort of strategy that one might deploy in, in one’s nonprofit is to really make sure that you, you, you test it quickly, and then can make those those solid decisions about whether to keep doing that or, or to move on to something different.
Exactly. And then the one thing I would add to that, to your point about failing fast and running, the test is also going in knowing sort of like what the key questions you’re looking to answer are, right? Sort of like, what does good book like for a test result? And what does bad look like? Right, when you have the data, you can then measure against it and have clarity on like, this was a failed test, let’s fail fast and move on. Or, hey, this test actually was successful. Let’s keep on compounding and investing in that. Right? I think so. Like, I think to have that sort of intellectual clarity upfront about what it is that we’re testing. And why like, why is this an important test right now? Why is this the question we should go answer versus the other ones? I think that’s like, also just a good discipline to maintain.
Yeah, it’s really why we focus at real iStudio, on on strategy first, all of our engagements, because if no, if we don’t have a roadmap, if we don’t know where we’re going, then it’s really hard to test how well you’re doing or if you’re making progress. And so starting with that idea of this is where we’re hoping to go and this is what we’re this is what we’re going to try to achieve through this and, you know, keep your eyes open for other opportunities. That will certainly come up during that that journey. But but really, you know, if you don’t start with with a destination in mind, then it’s really hard to determine whether or not you’re, you’re going in the right direction. And to keep everybody, you know, really rolling in that right direction.
I think that’s absolutely right. And then I mean, the other thing that’s been interesting for me, at least since this is also my first time, building a startup, it’s still like, it’s a, it’s the fast part of your fail fast, right? Like, I always joke that, like, I’m spending all this time writing out our six months plan or a year plan or a two year plan. And then it’s like, like, two months from now, I’m probably pivoting and rewriting the whole plan anyways. Right? Because it’s like, you got new data, and you you sort of, like get pointers on this is like the, the ultimate direction to go or at least make a little shift and pivot here or there. Right. And just like being willing to react fast to the data that you’re getting versus like, you know, so it’s like strategy first, but like, let’s also stay open minded and absorbing of the new data as it flows into keep on making your strategy basically a living document.
Right, right. How do you battle against the, what I call the shiny squirrel syndrome, where entrepreneurs are notorious for the, you know, getting excited for the next big thing or having something come across their path? That just seems like the best opportunity ever? And wanting to jump on that? What systems have you put in place to keep you know, keep that kind of under wrap?
Yeah, no, that’s great question. So a few different things. So there’s one, you know, we’re really lucky to have like a very engaged board where our wonderful board members are signed on because they were excited about our mission. And they’re also excited to build a startup with us. Right? And so like, I am constantly pulling them in close to act as my thought partners and my guardrails. Right? Were like, hey, we aligned on these, you know, five key priorities for the next quarter, this new thing is coming up, I’m thinking I want to pivot to this. Does that make sense? Is that not like, you know, I try to sort of really leave the organization with a real open mindedness to others perspectives and advice to act out that guardrail, right, because to your point, it’s like, so easy to see shiny objects. And it’s like, and it’s like the answer shouldn’t always be say no to all of them, though, right? Like, there’s just like, You got to have the wisdom to choose. And so there’s one, which is like, having my guardrails and strategic thought partners that I really trust to constantly test my thinking, and, you know, help me adjust and pivot my thinking as we go. I mean, the other thing that, that I’m sure a lot of nonprofits also face is like, look, there’s also reality to like, we have limited capacity. Right, right. Like there’s one of me, we have one other full time staff, and we have a lot of really awesome volunteers, but they’re all volunteers. None of them are full time. Right, right. And so like, I think, you know, one of my key job is to constantly be stepping back and reevaluating our priorities to make sure that we’re working on the most important things, and being ruthless about cutting off the ones that are, right. Right, or, you know, so like, and so I think, I think those two pieces really helped me and then last but not least, you know, like, the other thing that I also do is like, you know, we, you know, in our volunteer base, like we have folks from all sorts of different backgrounds with all sorts of different passions and whatever. And look if there’s like a particular person with like a particular killer idea that they’re really interested in, I also really encourage exploration of that. Right? It might not mean that the whole organization has turned toward that and might meet not mean that I personally am spending a lot of time on that. But giving the freedom for your team to carve out some bit of their time, because I’m really passionate excited about that idea. Like, I’m also really a big believer in that, because it’s like, also in that freedom to explore, like creative space, where you might find a spark that really leads to something else that’s big, you know, so it’s like trying to get that right balance.
Yeah, absolutely, I think that’s a really great point is enabling your team to have some autonomy, and to be able to explore those things that are, that are interesting, because you just never really know what’s gonna come out of that. And you might might find, like, this amazing nugget of gold that you just had, no idea was gonna be there, just because you didn’t allow you a little more digging and a little more exploration into that into that zone.
Exactly. Exactly. And, you know, and I think, um, yeah, I think that’s really been important for us culturally, as well, because I think that’s how you maintain that sort of, like, innovative and entrepreneurial spark throughout your organization. Right? Right. Sort of, like, Don’t quell the great creative ideas that just because it wasn’t on your original thing, be smart about how much you invest in it, how much time you put into it, but like, you know, like, those explorations really might lead somewhere. So being open-minded to that for sure.
Yeah. And again, I think it just comes back to having a plan. And, you know, we call it a sandbox, essentially, where you collect those ideas, and you enable some, some playing with those ideas, because that might be what you want to start to capture, or or take on, you know, in q2, versus get distracted by it and try and stuff it into q1, when you already have the plans in place to execute on those, you know, the those items that you’ve identified previously is really important. Right,
I think that’s absolutely right.
So what are some of the biggest challenges that you either have faced or are facing over their neighbor share right now?
Yeah, I mean, I think there’s, there’s a few different pieces, I would say, you know, overarching, like, let me make clear, like, I have certainly come to really appreciate every entrepreneur and founder out there, because all of this is hard. Right? As I just did on a pause and just like acknowledge that and celebrate those who are going through the same journey, where it’s sort of like, I feel like every day you’re facing a new challenge and a new mountain to go climb. Right. And so so there’s like that piece of it. So for me to select one or two is sort of my probably underselling that, like all the folks out there for our building and passionately sort of growing their organizations like I hear you, you know, because because it’s hard. And then in terms of, you know, what, what some key challenges have been, you know, I think there’s sort of a few. There’s sort of like, external, like real problem solving challenges, and then also some internal reflections that I’ve had to battle through as, like, an executive in this space learning and growing with the organization. Right. So in the first bucket, you know, there’s like, there’s like plenty of things that we’ve been trying to crack through, right. So there’s everything from, you know, interesting enough, this first half of the year, for example, was all about us trying to figure out how we actually crack in to the existing nonprofit community and testing out our hypothesis of like, hey, we believe that this could be a really impactful tool for our frontline heroes. Right, right. So like, when I was even describing to you the Hey, we would cold reach out and hopefully get folks to talk to us, etc. Like, that was really hard. Right? Like, I think we went in a bit naive about the Hey, like, it’s an extra resource should be fairly easy. It’s almost like we’re trying to hand you free money to help help a person in a way you can help before like, what like what could possibly go wrong, like. And then the thing that we certainly came to appreciate was that wow, like, even though we didn’t necessarily mean to start it this way, like the thing we’re actually doing, it’s fairly disruptive to the traditional nonprofit model out there. Right, where like, you know, the traditional nonprofit structure, it says that you fundraise centrally and then you drive your programs. And we’re saying, please keep on doing that. But why do we play this new role for you, which is acting as a conduit, right, you’re acting as an identifier, the need and then you’re a conduit to just get these resources directly to the person in need in a way that hopefully will be supplemental to the great work, you’re doing your programs, but it’s not really in the scope of your programming. Right, right. And so I mean, like, it would be funny because we record all our board meetings, and I bet you if you listen back to the ones of June and July and stuff, it’s like me pulling my hair out with the board being like, why can’t we get this to click, you know, I like really figuring out how to like really sell through to our nonprofit partners, and sort of like get the get this test going. And I’m happy to say that we finally through like, sorted out the best way to approach it and do it but that was a really big challenge, because that’s so core to our model. So there was definitely that piece and just like, you know, like just really learning the importance of not just like our process design and how to reduce friction, but like, also just learning a ton about how this community thinks about trust and relationships and and like being able to like, come from just a deep place of empathy, as we reach out to these orgs, you know, so that was like a huge set of lessons and learnings for us that, you know, once again was like really pivotal to our model and us, you know, maintaining confidence that this is the model that we believe remains effective and the right way to drive. You know, and then another big challenge has been the, you know, just constantly stepping back and thinking through, how do I keep on adjusting my approach, right, as I continue to, like, build and motivate our volunteer team, right? Like all the pros that we’ve talked about, and then, you know, we can also talk about, frankly, about the car as well, right? There’s everything from the like, how do you keep on driving toward your priorities with a good sense of urgency, while working with, you know, 98% of your workforce were like neighbors here is not their top priority? Sure, I like most that someone’s third, fourth or fifth, right? Because at their day, job after family down there, whatever. And so how do you how do you manage an org with enough fluidity and empathy, to keep on getting the outputs that you need, while still once again, taking advantage of the awesome talent that’s out there, right? And thinking through the like, how do you once again, this remote world where you know, where I’m actually really excited that we’re having our first ever holiday gathering next week, it’ll be the first time I’m meeting some of our volunteers that I’ve like talked to on Zoom for 18 months? Sort of, like how do you create community and motivation, when you don’t even get to, like, you know, we don’t get to do that, you know, stereotypical notion of like a building a startup, and you’re in the garage together, grinding away, like, we don’t get, you know, gotten to do that. And so like, how to learn through a bunch there, we went through, you know, definitely moments of turnover and things like that in the beginning, and sort of like thinking through the how to keep on building, motivating and retaining this volunteer team to keep on wanting to build with us, you know, so those are some of the like, the the types of challenges that we’ve certainly been going through. And then, you know, the next challenge for us, as we go into sort of like our next phase of as we’re thinking about growth, and how do we really scale to impact at the level that we believe our mission is capable of getting to? Is that certainly thinking through, like, what is the best growth strategy for us, right, which I know, has talked a lot about here. You know, and then having the debates on like, just what even is the right strategic lever? Right? Is it us doing it on our own in a brick by brick way? Is it? How is can we do it via sort of sourcing our strategic partners in a big way that can really help a step change our impact? Like, deepen the guts of it right now? I don’t have answers for you yet. We’re doing a lot of conversations and research. But that’s the next big thing. That’s certainly you know, keeping me up at night these days. Gotcha. That’s been really, you know, like, once again, that’s part of building the business. It’s been a lot of fun, but it’s, it’s also, you know, the capital C type challenge for us the swordfish.
Sure, sure. So what do you think the solutions are there? Are you are you seeking to, you know, create more capital to, you know, look for corporate sponsorships? What are what are you going to try? So that you can you can get to that scale, that you’re that you’re really looking forward to have a huge impact across the across the country? Yeah,
I mean, like, the, the main experiment, let’s call it that we’re running with right now is this notion of whether or not we can go find the right sort of strategic partner or set of partners to really help sort of like work with us to almost cobuild. Right, where, you know, the way we’re thinking about it is like, think of the proof of concept that we built up so far as, as like a nice aggregation engine, right? Like, we figured out a streamlined way to work with really awesome local grassroots nonprofits all over the country, to identify these validated cases of need. These aren’t, you know, random needs that you’re seeing out that aren’t verified, etc. These are, you know, real organizations with real people on the ground acting a third party saying this is real, and it’s about to slip through the cracks, right? And, you know, and then the thing that we’re trying to figure out from the strategic partnership side is sort of how do we plug this needs aggregation engine into basically a car, right, that will either act as source of money so that we can fill these needs, right, or act as a way to distribute our content, so that we can reach the eyeballs that can then raise the money to fill these needs. Right? And so, you know, and it’s like, and it’s coming from this perspective of like, hey, you know, we came in with a particular insight and idea around the building of the needs aggregation engine, but we don’t pretend to know how to build a car ourselves, right? And so instead of figuring out like, Okay, now let’s go study how to go build a tire, to the windshield or whatever, it’s much more the Hey, is there a way to sort of like take our proof of concept and seek out the right types of partners that that would be interested in really scaling out impact in this way, using the superpowers that they might have right whether that’s once again Money or distribution? or what have you.
Have you identified any specific types of corporate partners or types of partnerships that you’d like to create?
Yeah, I mean, I think we have sort of like a, sort of like a target list of all sorts of different types of partners in different market segments, right? You can think of anything from the, hey, like, can we partner with a social network out there, right, where their entire job and platform is about bringing in eyeballs and producing enough interesting content for those eyeballs want to read? So is there something interesting there, right? Or is it about finding the national brands with, you know, national corporations with various, like local focus type brands, right, where they really care about making impact in their local communities, but a national scale? Right, and so like, you know, we definitely have developed buckets of those types of those types of prospects, basically. And, you know, we’re working to initiate some initial conversations. So once again, to your point, like we’re looking to fail fast, right? Well, let’s test the waters. Is this, is this approach something that’s going to be doable through time? Or are we going to get initial signals and be like, That’s crazy, go, you know, you got to go some other route. And maybe it’s the brick by brick, maybe it’s something else. But that’s right. That’s what I mean, it’s like, so funny that you mentioned fail fast. It’s literally the Phase One in right now, right? Like, initial feedback and data, and let’s see if we can make this happen. Or if not great, like, let’s be open minded. Let’s listen to that feedback, and then figure out the next path. Right?
Right. I mean, I’m just trying to think through ideas of ways like to tap into places that already have a distribution channel or distribution network. So for example, if you think about the food scarcity, you know, conundrum that exists here, and in certain parts of the States more than others, but I would say, you know, across across the board, there’s, there’s always somebody who, who is going to bed hungry. And looking at the distribution network for food, which is our, you know, grocery stores, particularly the larger chains like Kroger, and Safeway, and they probably have some other parent company name that I’m unaware of. But, um, but how can you tap into all of the all of the food that just goes to waste on on a day to day basis, and get that distributed to some of these communities to these, you know, to these people who are really struggling with with food scarcity, and then it also taps into, you know, this other challenge, which is the, you know, the food waste problem that we have, where I can’t remember what the number is, but if you do a little digging, you can find how much actual food goes to waste here in the States every day. It’s something like 30% I want to say on a shame, yeah, but, um, but, but being able to tie those kind of two mechanisms together to get food into people’s hands, who normally wouldn’t, wouldn’t have anything to eat, who’d be happy for some, you know, slightly over overripe bananas, or what have you. Those seem to be interesting ways to, and maybe I’m, maybe I’m overreaching here, Oh, interesting ways to have your organization kind of figure out how to how to make those connections.
Yeah, and I think, um, and I think I think the challenge for us is going to be how do you take and I like that middle exact concept, but shifted over into a separate space, right, where like, you know, in current state, at least, we’re not necessarily looking to be the distributors of the physical food, right, that sort of like hopefully what are you know, really wonderful sort of food banks and food pantries, etc, are doing out there? And then how do we do that in the form of, of money, basically, right? Like, sort of, like, you know, really direct giving, and in a certain way, direct aid in a certain way, so that we can also cover the types of needs out there that aren’t as accessible, right? And so, so it’s like, I love your Kroger idea and stuff like that. And so the thing we’ve been trying to figure out sort of like, what’s the equivalent of that in our space?
Right? What’s the equivalent of that distribution? System?
Example? Typical example of it? And it’s sort of like, but like, how do we conceptually, you know, ported over to, right? We’re trying to do, right, so your distribution network is in theory that all the great nonprofits that are out there doing this type of work already said accurate?
That’s right. That’s right. And then to your point, in the same way, though, that we need to find a Kroger for them, right. Like we need to find that source of food for them to distribute. The partnership ideas are like how do we act? How do we plug in our network into the source of of donations and resources? Money, right? They have something to go distribute.
Yeah, that’s amazing. What’s it like working with other nonprofits? Have you? Have you seen things that do work and don’t work? When when trying to form those partnerships?
Yeah, I mean, it’s overall been a really rewarding and humbling experience, I would say. Because once again, through through all these conversations through our, you know, twists and turns of learnings or like the best way to work with folks, etc, you really come to appreciate both the the real passion that folks have, and then you also come to appreciate and like, just develop like a, like a real place, real sense of empathy for all the challenges that nonprofits go through. Sure, right. Like our target partner is the smaller, medium sized local nonprofit out there, right. Like, we’re not talking about the huge American Red process, right? I’m talking about the folks where, you know, like, yeah, like a donation of 42 bucks or 20 bucks is what really makes a difference to them and to the person they’re trying to help. Right. And, and, you know, overall, like, I would say, It’s been, like working with our partners is probably like, one of my favorite parts of this job, right? Because like, that’s why we built this thing. We, we be a tool and resource for that. Right? So to be able to provide them some type of relief in some type of extra resource so that they don’t have to go through that painful, and oftentimes happens all the time notion of like, Hey, you’re giving, you know, Hey, neighbor, hey, client, you’re telling me about a need that’s actually quite pivotal and quite important, but I can’t help you. Those are the moments that we’re trying to really help folks through, you know? Yeah,
gotcha. So what’s been the, within those relationships? What’s the pushback that you get from from nonprofits? Do they feel like you’re, you’re coming in and trying to take over what they’re doing? Do they? What’s the biggest challenge there?
Yeah, I mean, I think I feel so like, I would say, the feedback predominantly has been positive, right, in terms of acceptance of the concept and whatever else. And I think where folks get tripped up is either one of two places. There’s one, I think there’s some folks who are nervous about the like, hey, us taking this on feels like we’re getting to be out of scope of what our mission is. Right? Sort of like No, our mission is to do these programs provide these services and X ways. Like we don’t really want to open up this extra other venue. Right, right up doing this thing for our community. Right. So and that’s a strategic decision in their own right, right. So I’m not here to judge it, that’s more a thing. And that, you know, and then the other thing in terms of like, you know, and these are, especially in cases where it’s like, you know, the organization actually loves our concept, but don’t quite execute is just the like, just the real reality of how overcapacity a lot of these organizations are, right, like, sort of like, it’s like the recognition of like, neighbor shares a good thing. But it’s another thing on the to do list. Delete, like, you know, we can’t, we can’t do it, we can’t add another to do list. Right, we cannot add another item. Right? So I think there’s just some, like, real practical dynamics like that, to work through. Whereas once again, this challenge of like, how do we make this as as seamless as possible? Right. So that there’s, it’s almost like, it’s a yes, it’s an extra to do. But it’s so easy, right? You just put it, you’re just pulling out the Batphone saying, like, help this help me help this person? I can’t help on my own today. Right. And then it’s also the how do you it’s it how do you make it like worth their while? Right, like, how do you make it worth their while such that the capacity that they are able to squeeze out to invest in this program? It does result in real impact for them right in their clients?
Right. Yeah. So is that systems development? What’s the what do you think makes it? How do you get that message across in terms of the ease that that this is going to create for for the nonprofits? And how, how simple and effective it can be to just just kind of plug this in?
Yeah, I mean, I definitely think there’s definitely like us, like a systems process and technology design. And look, there’s like still so much more for us to invest in and build there, by the way, right? Sort of like, I’m really proud of the fact that we’ve gotten our proof of concept working. But there’s so much to streamline and reduce the friction and in terms of our technology, our processes all of it. Right? Like, like, we’re definitely still in scrappy startup mode, and as a con there that we can just improve and make better, right, based on just feedback from our partners and asking them the questions. How are you doing this on the ground? Oh, I didn’t I can’t believe you’re actually having to do it this way. Okay, great. Let’s translate that into something that we can build for you, whether it’s easier reporting or whatever, like that type of thing, right? Sure. There’s definitely like a big piece that we thought about in terms of like, process and policy, right, sort of like, we’re not the type of org where like, you know, here’s your 10 page set of guidelines for what needs like can apply to the platform or not. Right, I guess we’re like, we give sort of like three key big guidelines for our partners. And then once again, we’re really like empowering them and relying on their judgment to decide like what applies within those principles or not right, and so there’s Definitely a piece around the how do we just make sure that we don’t? We don’t violate some of our core principles around empowerment and no red tape. Right? That there’s definitely that piece of it, and then looked up, then then the last piece is the part around the life. How do we even in our early stages, as we’re figuring out the strategic partners where you know, the car that we’re trying to plug into, and all that, how do we just keep on helping people? Right, like, I think the other key thing that might make a, a prospective partner organization nervous about partnering with us is this notion of like, am I going to end up disappointing one of my clients? Right, right, we’re already going through one of the toughest moments in their lives. And I don’t want to create false hope, because like, there’s this cool thing called neighbor share, and then I end up not delivering, right? So there’s definitely a piece around that point about how do we make it worth their while? And how do we set this thing up such that, like, we can give them some level of comfort that if there’s a need on the site, there’s like an SLA that we can deliver resources to you within, so that in the meantime, as we’re working to build the rest of this out, and figure out how the sustainable, you know, our sustainable engine works, and all of that, how do we just keep on helping people and not managing expectations, right, like being really transparent about what we can support and not support and so that we can manage our partners expectations, and then they can manage their clients expectations, right?
We’re all doing it, all of us in this whole ecosystem are doing it to help our neighbors on the ground, right? I’m sure you have a ton of examples of ways that you’ve that you’ve brought this all to to fruition? What are some of your favorite stories around successes that you’ve created? Through through neighbor share?
Absolutely, I’ll start first with actually just like a broader overview of the types of needs that we help with, cleaner. You know, I don’t I don’t know if you noticed that, like I keep on calling these pivotal moments of need, right? Yes. And, you know, we were actually very, like, we chose that language carefully, where we wanted to purposely avoid words like emergency need, basic need, because like, I basically didn’t want to get into a debate with anybody about the like, what, what constitutes a basic need, right? Is that in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I’m more like, I don’t know if like a kid can’t afford Wi Fi to like access his education. I think that’s pretty critical. And Pivotal, right? Yeah. So the way we think about a pivotal need is really once again, like this, it’s like, it’s those moments, where either there’s an emergency that happened that’s at risk of spiraling into a crisis, right? Or it’s a need, that’s actually this sort of like last mile type of blocker, that can really help like, that’s really preventing a person from making a real step change improvement in their lives. Right. And so like, in terms of examples of stories, you know, on that first bucket of like emergencies that can spiral so quickly into a crisis, you know, one that comes up on a platform all the time is this notion of that unexpected $300 car repair. Sure, right. Where, you know, for, for a lot of us, it might be all the car repair, it’s like annoying at the top of insurance whenever it’s a nuisance. But you know, like, I’ve certainly come to appreciate that, you know, if you’re in a stable, but already pretty fragile situation, it could be that through the dollar car repair, that makes you go very quickly from like, Okay, I’m stable, I’m making my rent, I’m living paycheck to paycheck, but I’m doing it, I’m able to support my family, too, all of a sudden, you go from Wait a minute, my car stopped working, I can’t afford to repair it. That means I’ve lost my main mode of transportation to work that showing up late to work a couple of times, and then all of a sudden, within like a two to three week span, you might be at risk of losing your job as you can’t show up to work on time. We can’t show up to work period, right? And then you’re like, wait a minute, how do I go from pretty steady and stable to I’m literally at risk and on on a cliff side of crisis? Right? Where like, am I not gonna be able to feed my kids next week, I’m not gonna be able to make my rent next week. Right? And so it’s sort of like, that’s where that power of the frontline hero comes in. Because they’re there at that moment of identifying that moment of the of the car repair. Right, you know, and then sort of like if we can build up our system such that we’re getting in resources, and at that right moment, that’s how we can really want to get prevent that emergency from spiraling into that bigger, much bigger crisis, where it’s actually gonna be way harder to help a person climb out of than this, this car repair that we can just cut free, right?
Yeah, absolutely. I totally, totally get it.
Yeah. Well, funny. I like to use that example a lot. Because like, I, you know, I’ve talked to hundreds of nonprofits at this point across the country. And like, as I’m describing this concept, they always come up with that example on their own. Like, oh, it’s like that car repair that I just, you know, we just had a situation last week. I’m like, Yes, exactly. You get it?
Yeah. Well, you could take a 30 minute commute and turn that into a three hour each. Do a bus commute,
more money that you can afford bus tickets off money, too. Right. And, and then, you know, and then some of my favorite stories are also on on that second bucket of like, how do you really just help remove those last mile blockers? Right, right. And so this one was from a couple weeks ago, and it just really stuck with me because of such a small amount of money, but it says it was the 17 year old Teenage father that was working with one of our nonprofit orgs. And they literally helped him submit a need a request for $125. Because he was looking to, you know, build a career for himself so that he can support his baby. And the thing that was blocking him was that he couldn’t afford the $100 security guard training certification, he needed to pick up a steady job as a security guard, and then the $25 that he needed for bus tickets to get back and forth to that training. Wow. Right. And it’s like, by unlocking that moment, this this young man, this kid still basically right is able to really pick himself up and go build it, start building a career, building a bank account, etc, so that he can support his family. Sure, like, that’s really impactful, and pivotal in my mind, right. Um, you know, another one was, you know, we work with a, a nonprofit out in New York City, that helps that works to help resettle refugees from all over the world. Okay, and this particular story was this, you know, this young woman who’s a refugee from Afghanistan, she’s over with her family, she’s the oldest of five daughters. And she’d been saving for over two years to start her college education. And through some, you know, just emergencies that came up and whatever, she basically had to like dig into that fund a bit to help her parents or her family go through a particular moment. And she was literally at risk of not being able to make that first tuition bill that was coming out that would have helped her start college and time versus another quarter or yet another year. And that’s when labor share funds came in right on time, like literally helped her start college. Amazing, we’re talking about it, but you know, what’s gonna we don’t we don’t cover needs more than $400. For that relatively small amount of money, we’re able to really just like have that outsize impact. And those are the moments that I’ve really just opened my eyes to, to this whole experience and building this thing over this past year. Right, where it’s once again, like, as we’re, you know, working with the power of these frontline heroes identify these pivotal moments, relatively small amount of money, huge outsize impact on a family. Right, right. Like, it’s really tremendous.
Right. Yeah, that’s amazing. So if you were to look into the future and see, you know, one, one to two to three years in the future, what are the what are some of the bigger biggest hurdles that you see, in your way? To get you where you want to be?
Yeah, I mean, I think like, there’s definitely a piece, which is the, you know, through time sorting through our ongoing and sustainable fundraising strategy. Okay. Right. You know, I think we like the board. And I, we certainly been learning a lot about what it takes to fundraise in the nonprofit space. Right? It’s very different from, you know, raising funds and a Series A for your new Pro for profit startup or something like that. Right. Right. And so I think that’s one of the things that we’re actively grappling with these days, and really short out a, you know, the good foundation for our fundraising strategy. And also sorting out the how do we make sure we’re also staffing up appropriately, etc, to build sort of like a more sustaining engine so that we can keep on investing into our model and our organization and for the mission? Right. So I think that’s like a key thing. The other key thing, though, and probably I would flip the order and say this is the biggest thing is that strategic partnerships thing that you and I talked about, right? That’s really our moonshot bet for, like, how do we, in rapid order, take what we believe is a really critical mission for this country, and really blow this thing out, right there sort of like the 10 year play that we can do, or is there something that we can do much faster? Right. And so I think that’s gonna be like, you know, it’s like a, I don’t know if I call it a hurdle versus that certainly, like the next big hypothesis we’re driving hard at, so that we can just like create more data for ourselves to figure out our next phase of sort of evolution and growth.
Right. Yeah. Yeah, those are two big two biggies.
For sure. Yeah, it sounds to me like you have. Yeah, that’s me, like you have a good board on on on your team. And certainly, that’s usually where nonprofits start for, you know, big strategic partnerships in terms of, you know, kind of corporate sponsorships or opportunities that that will help you help land those, those large ticket donors, for example. And then in terms of the fundraising strategy. You know, one of the things that we’d like to look at first is what, what is your, what are your assets there and how do you tap into your people people’s desire to help and contribute and be part of something bigger than, than just themselves? And, and how can you help create opportunities for people to to take additional actions. And whether those actions this is this kind of falls into what we call the Inspire phase of the stakeholder lifecycle where, you know, with those actions, how can you get somebody to escalate from a one time donor donation to a second time donation or a month of a month donation, or how can you put systems in place to, you know, to facilitate that, you know, that bank that you need, and be able to have that predictability over time where you know, that you have have, you know, steady, steady donors, donor funds coming in. And, and it’s really about motivating people to, to take a little bit bigger action, as well as to feel like they’re part of that, that bigger platform, and so enabling people to become kind of either either your, the frontline heroes themselves in some capacity, or at least be able to, to spread your story as widely as possible, so that you can create the situation where they feel like the hero in this in this in this story, and they’re able to, can feel good about sharing, you know, sharing that with others. So leveraging that power of, of networking, just through your existing. Yep. Stakeholders, essentially.
No, I love that. I love your notion of like, how do you make them be part of the frontline heroes? Because a lot of ways they are right, as the donors who are investing rates, musician and all that stuff. I really love that concept.
Right. Right. And it’s it becomes down to kind of messaging and storytelling, and how do you create an opportunity for them to feel a different way than perhaps they currently feel? Or at least see themselves in that story? And, yeah, that then becomes a pretty, pretty viable tool. So you know, if you can tie, you know, that 125 donation $125 gift, I guess to to that gentleman who was looking to get some training to a specific donor, and make make them feel like they had yo, they created that, that they become the hero in that. And, and that can be an incredibly powerful way to get them to, to give more and share that story widely.
Yeah, no, I love that. I love that. I think that’s right. I actually was jotting down a note on my ends. Do I think you inspired a couple ideas there actually, as I think about our urine reporting, and, and getting back to our donors, yeah, for sure. Yeah, for sure. I mean, it’s all about storytelling, and in creating that narrative that people are going to want to share.
Yeah, I think that’s right. I think that’s yeah.
So how can people find out more about neighbor share, and either get involved or, or get their network involved and really help you expand this program?
No, thank you for that, you know, please come check us out at NB share.org. So it’s NB sh ar e.org. Or feel free to reach out to me I’d love to talk. You know, you can reach me at Diana di na and be sure.org. And I, if you can’t tell that I’m super passionate about what we’re doing. I love meeting folks out there who have shared values and and similar passions. So please do feel refilled, reach out. And I’d love to have a conversation.
Well, I will definitely put both of those links in our show notes for this episode. And I’m really excited to hear how this expands and how you can continue to scale it and really do a lot more good in the world. It sounds like you’re on your way. Thank you so much do Yeah, well, I love having these conversations. And I end every episode in this way. Where you’re talking is great. And it’s it’s good to get the energy out there into into create opportunities for people to feel part of a part of a bigger, huge network of nonprofit leaders and people who are out there trying to do good in the world. But what I really love is when people can take action and so if there was one thing that you wanted people to do after listening to our episode today, to take some action to make the world a better place. What would you have them do?
I would say just go do something. Anything, right? Like I get this question a lot of like, oh, like it’s so cool that you did this. How do I get started helping like just like dip your toe in? That might be as easy as you know, it’s that might be as easy as like going in, you’ll go into your favorite nonprofit or if you don’t have one going to be shared at work. Just hit that donate button if we $5 $10 that money is going to make impact on someone right where raise your hand to volunteer. It doesn’t mean To be the Hey, I’m joining like a neighbor share to build a whole startup. I’m gonna go volunteer for an hour at a local nonprofit and just like, Go experiment and be out in the community, right? So it’s like a little bit of like, I don’t think the bar needs to be high. Yeah. How do you get going, just get going. I went through years of like, oh, what’s it like, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Just go help something today, small action five minutes $5 and see how it feels.
I love I love that idea of five minutes. $5. I would encourage everyone to do that. I know that most of our listeners are probably already doing things like that, but, but it’s always good to hear, you know, some other ways that people can contribute and just make a little bit of a difference.
Thank you so much for being on the show today. Diane, I really, really enjoyed our conversation. I’m excited to hear what’s next for you and, and your team at Davis share. And thanks for being on the show.
Thank you so much. Dude, this was so much fun. Thank you for having me.
Talk to you soon.
And there you have it. Another great episode of relish this. Thanks again for listening. You can find past episodes of the show at relish this.org. And remember, if you liked what you heard today, please subscribe and leave a review wherever you listen to podcasts. For more information on purpose marketing, grab your free copy of my book, Mission uncomfortable how nonprofits can embrace purpose-driven marketing to survive and thrive. Get your copy now and mission uncomfortable. book.com Thanks again for listening. Come back next week, won’t you?