Episode 74: Scale Your Organization Through Inspiring Your Stakeholders With Joe Sanders From Colorado Uplift

For most businesses and organizations, the quickest wins are found in the INSPIRE phase of the stakeholder lifecycle.

In most situations, transforming customers and donors into repeat business is simply easier than selling to a whole new audience.

After all, you’ve already put in the hard work nurturing these individuals through the ATTRACT, BOND, and CONNECT phases of their journey. You just need to re-engage with value-driven materials, inspirational stories, and/or fresh opportunities to inspire them to take further action. (Read all about this in my book, Mission Uncomfortable.)

In fact, this group of engaged individuals can help you expand your reach as they evangelize for your organization and spread the word about all the great work you do in the world. If you can make it as easy as possible for them to do that—for example, by recommending (and even writing for them) ways to share your mission—this group can become quite valuable to your organization.

On today’s episode, I spoke with Dr. Joe Sanders, the CEO of Colorado Uplift, a very cool organization that helps urban youth gain skills and get the support they need to become leaders in their communities. We delve into the INSPIRE phase of the stakeholder journey—discussing how to get stakeholders to re-engage, refer, and share reviews. (In other words, INSPIRING them to talk up your organization and its impact.)

Our conversation also focused on ways to supercharge your marketing efforts and PR campaigns to improve your ability to reach and engage with a wider audience.

Joe is a thoughtful and focused leader who brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the organization. Not only is he a retired Air Force Colonel and Director of the Air Force Academy’s Leadership and Character Development activities, but he is a PhD as well.

This was a great chat. I hope you enjoy it.

Colorado Uplift

Truly listen to someone. Just listen to them and acknowledge their story.

Listen to the podcast here:

Scale Your Organization Through Inspiring Your Stakeholders With Joe Sanders From Colorado Uplift

Hey, Relish THIS podcast listeners. Thanks for joining us today on the show. If you’re looking to scale your organization, and really make it grow, like doubling your impact over the next couple of years, there are a lot of things you need to put into play. And the first thing is engaging your audience to really take action. One of the things that is super valuable when doing that is to look at the INSPIRE phase of the stakeholder journey and see how you can get your existing audience to reengage — to refer and review your organization to really spread the word about what you’re doing and all the great things you’re doing with in the world.

On today’s episode, I talked with Joe Sanders, and he is the CEO of Colorado Uplift. They’re a really cool organization here in the state that’s helping urban youth kind of get those skills and get additional support to help them on their journey. We talked a lot about scaling, storytelling, how to really supercharge a PR campaign. I think there’s a ton of great information in this episode for you, I really hope you enjoy it, I had a great time talking to Joe, here we go.


For right about four years now, I was in the Air Force for about 23 years prior to coming to Colorado to uplift and for me, just felt what I described as a calling to work with under-served youth. And so I decided to retire from the Air Force and just look for opportunities where I can really give back to a community that I felt needed needed some additional support or help in any way that I could. And in the process of trying to fulfill that calling. I came across Colorado uplift, and x had hired four years ago, and I’ve never been more fulfilled in my life. That’s great. Yeah, you know, because, you know, I serve an organization where we really get a chance to build long term life changing relationships with urban youth. And these are deep relationships that we’re building day in and day out, you know, really trying to raise up the next generation of urban leaders, for the communities that they currently live in and beyond. And so just to be a part of a mission and have a vision, where we’re really trying to raise up these leaders, like I said, has been extremely fulfilling. And that’s great.

Yeah, not to mention the people I get to work with. But 40 full time staff that are out, you know, in the schools and in the communities during the work that we do, which is essentially through these long term relationships, really trying to develop character, leadership, and life skills. And we do that with our in school program, as well as an after school program that we have, by way of mentoring. And then a few other after school initiatives we have as as well, with our Venture Program, and our post secondary program. So again, just honored to be a part of the process.

Yeah. So what’s the age range that you start to, to try and influence these kids? And how long do they typically stay in the program?

Yeah, great question. So we actually start at the elementary school age group, about fourth grade, okay, because the way the program is set up is the high school students that we work with. We teach them that, you know, the character and leadership qualities that we focus on in the classroom, mentored him around those qualities, but then they in turn, actually go to the local elementary schools and teach the very same character is the quality that they’re learning? Oh, that’s great. And so so we get a chance to work with fourth graders. And then we have a middle school enrichment program as well. So it’s conceivable that we can work with a student from fourth grade all the way up through high school graduation. And one of the initiatives that we have right now is to really enhance our alumni engagement. Right. So we really are starting to see a presence, a deliberate presence with our students, long after they graduate from high school as well.

That’s great. So the alumni coming back as mentors as well. Are they more engaged as donors? Or what’s the, what’s the engagement look like from that that really longer term perspective for you guys?

Yes. So a third of our program staff right now were former students. Oh, wow. Cool. That’s great. Oh, so we do see a lot of them come back as a staff members, which is awesome, you know, for sure, their way of actually paying it forward, and being able to pour back into their communities, you know, directly. A lot of the other alumni we have will come back on voluntary basis, you know, maybe to speak at an event that we have, you know, some type of gala or a class or something like that. So those are some of the ways that we continue to engage with our with our, our alumni.

That’s, that’s fantastic. Did you grow up in here in Colorado, or, you know,

I am from elsewhere. So I mentioned that I spent 23 years in the Air Force where my father spent 22 years in the Air Force.

Oh, so you’re from all over?

I am from all over? Yeah. Alexandria, Louisiana, but in California, New Hampshire, Okinawa, Japan, you know, and so I am in a settling, settling here in Colorado after retiring from the Air Force, because my last assign was actually at the Air Force Academy.

Right. I went to school down and Colorado College in the spring. So I used to, I don’t know that they still allow you to do this. But we used to be able to ride our bikes into the academy and train there on the on the campus. And it’s just a beautiful place to to be able to go ride bikes. It’s such a such a special place. They’re here in the Colorado Springs area. Yeah, no. And I do they do still have plenty of bike riders. For sure. Yeah, that’s awesome.

So yeah, so you wrote your bikes in college in high.

I did. Yeah, I was a race race rode bikes back in the day, this is back. Anyone who is familiar with Colorado Springs, we used to actually ride up Highway 24. So it has gotten vastly more crowded there. I think in the years since I left, I’m dating my myself here a little bit, but it was actually not considered completely insane to do that at some point in time. And, but that was one of the things that was really nice about about riding in the academy was, you know, there was no traffic and it was just, you know, really amazing roads and, and, and just a neat, neat place to be able to go kind of pedal around for a little while. So yeah, I’ve run into a couple wild turkeys or a deer every now and then.

But yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. So um, you guys work here in the state in Colorado? Is are you primarily focused on? You know, obviously, it’s it’s more urban. Kids. Is that, is that correct? So Denver, Colorado Springs, kind of that corridor, or are you working throughout the state?

Yes. So right now we’ve concentrated in Denver as well as a roar. Okay, so you know, we, this year, we’ll work with about 22 schools at the elementary, middle school and high school levels across Denver Public Schools, as well as Aurora Public Schools. In addition to the work we do here in Denver, though, there is an organization called elevate. And Elevate is an organization that basically replicates what we do. So every USA, they go across the nation, and they stand up other uplift, so to speak, but they call them elevate. And right now, there’s a presence and about 14 cities across the nation. That’s doing exactly what we do at a different scale and varying skills, of course, but they have the same kind of model where they’re working with these these youth in in school and an after school doing providing that mentoring as well.

So that’s cool that you were able to kind of scale that program nationally through through some opportunities there with. With that other organization, I, I think that’s a really interesting play that we’re starting to see more of where nonprofit entities are really looking for opportunities to partner with other nonprofit entities that have a similar focus and be able to really augment their services in a way that that they weren’t able to do. So, you know, kind of alone. So that’s, that’s really cool that you have that as, as part of your, your protocol. Are there other other other ways that you’ve looked? Or have had success in kind of scaling things?

Yeah, um, I would say, you know, for us, you know, clearly, you know, the Elevate model, in terms of replication model is definitely one that we put up as a great kind of success story. So to so to speak. But But beyond that, you know, we’ve also tried to leverage local partnerships with other organizations in order to, you know, help meet the needs of, from some of our students as well as our families. And so, for instance, during a pandemic, we have partner organizations that are more suited to provide supplies in food, and even, you know, lodging, for family, so we partner with them, okay, over to help our, our families out. And so again, from a skill perspective, it wasn’t necessarily growing in numbers, but it was growing in a capacity to provide and meet the needs of our families. But when you think about skill, one of the things we’re looking to do, we actually have a strategic plan, where we are looking to grow. And again, I’d be happy to talk to you about that, I won’t start getting into that, because it may be a while unless you want to go there looking to grow in scale, by leveraging partnerships, but also by, you know, hiring more staff, okay, to meet some of the growing demands that we’re seeing in schools, because right now, we actually have schools, and students are waiting list to get in our programs. But until we can scale and get bigger, not just nationally, but just here, right here in Denver, as well as in Aurora, and even look with an eye for you mentioned Colorado Springs, and pueblo. We know there’s a need down there. We have some initiatives in place to start, you know, looking for ways to grow in skill to meet those needs.

That’s great. I mean, having a plan is certainly the first step of that process. Yes. Are you in terms of executing that plan? My guess is there are some financial concerns, as well as, you know, creating systems and building out that infrastructure that you that you’ll need to accommodate that. What what’s the what’s the next biggest hurdle on on your list in terms of being able to kind of put some of those some of those plans into play?

Yeah, no, you said it?

Well, you know, Stu, you know, our, our plan is essentially a fork kind of four phase model. And, you know, you mentioned the systems and putting some structures in place, that was really our fortify phase. Okay, it’s transitioning out of, and we’re moving into our build phase now. And the build phase costs for us to go from working with 3500 students we currently work with, to 7000 students. Wow. So that’s really doubling the number of students that we’re, we’re reaching. And, you know, for us, you know, we we believe that if we can raise the the funds to support that in a sustained way, we’ll be able to, to grow in meet and meet that demand and and achieve that, that 7000 Student mark, and is great. And by the way, our strategic plan is based off, there’s a couple things that drive it. One is the theory of transformation, we believe in this idea of critical mass. And what we want to see is not just change in our students individual lives, but we want to see transformation in communities. Transformation is what we’re after. And, you know, we’re big fans of, you know, the Greek. Greeks used to talk about, you know, good citizens and good societies and that recursive relationships, and we want to be in that, in that that loop of building good citizens that are building good societies and understand as we build these good societies in this building good citizens and so we believe in both individual and community transformation. But in order to reach that community transformation, we believe we have to expand the number of students and families that we’re currently touching. So our plan calls for us to one day actually be working with over 20 4000 Okay, students, but our next step in his next phase is to to this bill phase where we’re looking to go to 7000 students. And, you know, again, in terms of, you know, next steps on that, right now we’re in the process of launching a campaign to focus on that, to identify also specific schools that are most in need of our services. And then, as I said before, the schools that we’re currently at that have waiting lists, trying to figure out ways that we can, you know, get some of these kids off a waiting list. That’s, that’s what our focus is on now in this at this point of the plan.

Right. So so it’s really a fundraising campaign so that you can build awareness and then form for more fundraising and, and also bring bring team or sauna? I’m assuming, you probably probably don’t have to double your staff. But but I’m guessing there’s a pretty significant staffing component to this.

Yeah, absolutely. Yes. So, you know, we’re looking to add roughly about 10 more staff, and by some, you know, efficiencies with our model, but we’ll need to add about two more staff, as I mentioned before, you know, we’re right at about 40 staff now. But another 10 staff, you know, on a program site would allow us to add those additional students, the other you will have to in terms of our initiatives, so there’s a funding piece to this. But the other thing we’re really trying to galvanize in, in in really generate is more of a, we want more like a social movement around this concept. So we’re looking for what we’re calling community up-lifters, and a community up-lifters, essentially, somebody that could be from another community, it’s not from a community that we serve in, necessarily, but it’s a person or individual that says, you know, what, I align with the values, and the things that you’re trying to do at Colorado to uplift, and I want to be a part of that in some way. And even if they’re not directly contributing to uplift, maybe they’re doing something in their community already. But they want to say we stand with you uplift for the good of society, we stand with you uplift for the sake of improving and enhancing the level of character and compassion in our communities. And so we’re looking for uplift your sister really be a part of a broader movement of raising character and compassion, also across our nation, but definitely hear hear it here in Colorado. And so that’s an initiative that we have that goes, it goes in parallel. Now, the hope, obviously, is that some of those folks will be so moved, that they will give to Colorado to uplift the community up-lifters we have, but at the end of the day, you know, the preference in the or I guess, in the ultimate desire is that they’re giving to their communities and given to some community, even if it’s not just financial. Right, they’re giving in a way where the character into compassion is elevated.

Great. Sounds like it’s a kind of a cultural culture building exercise. Yeah. As well as an awareness exercise where we’re perhaps if you can get people to get excited about the program and what you’re what you’re doing, adapt that as a kind of a cultural shift that they have there in their own communities and and start talking about that. Then you bring more people into the fold. What are what are your strategies for tactics for kind of getting the word out about about the program? What what do you tend to do most to spread that spread that message out there?

Yeah, so one of the things we did recently, we actually had what we call a vision event. In a vision event we actually did a couple weeks ago at Empower field, hosted it, both online and in person. We had a number of folks show up maybe a couple 100 folks that showed up. And that was our way of kind of initially launching that. Sharing that opportunity with folks. Of course, you know, our website, you know, Colorado uplift.org has all kinds of information about being a community up-lifter and how you can get involved and how you can get engaged. So we’ve leveraged our website for that purpose as well. sending out emails. Also, you know, we’ve done newsletters in the past. We also have a couple other marketing organizations we’re working with, to help get some of the things we’re doing in newspapers and in journals and that type of thing. So trying to triangulate it as much as we can to get get the word out. You know, and so I believe that, you know, word of mouth is a great thing as well. I also believe that when what I’ve seen is once folks kidded in a here it, there is there’s a lot of excitement. And in what folks realize this that much of what we’re talking about, they’re already doing, we just want to spotlight the goodness. And I just think there’s so much goodness that’s happening in our communities, along with so much need. And when we can bring the need and the goodness together and spotlight that magical things happen, transformation starts to happen. And so, as you says, do in fact, I don’t know if you have any, you know, marketing background, and we’re looking at we you said it so well, I’m like, man, yeah, what you said. Maybe put your car try to get you to come in. And but you’re so right, though, in terms of just trying to shift and transform, you know, a culture because a lot of times people will say,

Well, you know, what’s your biggest challenges and nonprofit?

The first answer sometimes is, oh, we need more money to do more of our mission. And that is true. But what you says do I think is really critical, it really is shifting that mindset and shifting the culture. That to me, is the greatest challenge in the most significant ones. Because I do believe once we shift that, in when people get there, that the money will follow. Because they’ll want to support that, that that new vision, they’ll want to have a community where, you know, people are thriving in a community where, you know, we have, you know, somebody who saw limited possibilities, but now see limitless possibilities. You know, we’re graduation rates go from 60 to 70%, up to over 90%. They want to be in a community like that, and when they start getting excited about that, and they start seeing that that’s possible. And oh, by the way, seeing that they can contribute to that. That’s when I start I think we’ll start seeing, you know, some real changes in our communities.

Yeah, absolutely. I think that getting getting people excited, and then inspiring them to share those, those stories, is, is probably one of the one of the chief ways that that you’re going to be able to get that word out most effectively. Because it’ll be not only so authentic, that that people will have a hard time ignoring it. But, but also just, you know, you know, it’s infectious almost, it’s like once people get excited and can get their arms wrapped around something positive like that, then then it just, it just continues to spread. And I think that’s that’s something that, that marketing definitely, definitely can help. It sounds like you have a PR team working to get some placement in, in, in newspapers and magazines and things as well.

Yeah, we do. So we do some outsourcing to help that. You know, absolutely. We have. We’ve had some internal staff support in that area. Okay. But right now, you know, we depend heavily on some some outside resources and some experts in that area to help us with.

Yeah, that’s great earned media is is incredibly powerful. And, you know, one of the things that we’ve found lately is that it’s, it does oftentimes take some some help getting your foot in the door in terms of getting that that earned media but, but really establishing a story and being able to articulate that story effectively, is kind of the first step we, and you asked about marketing I, I do, I am one of the co-founders of relish studio, which is a marketing agency here in the Denver boulder area. And one of the things that we tried early on, we decided, oh, we need PR. And we went into that and we hired a PR firm. And unfortunately, we hadn’t, we hadn’t really thought it through as well as we could have in that we hadn’t, we hadn’t refined or figured out what that story was that would get somebody interested in, in sharing that story with their, with their audience. And so really making sure that you have that figured out as you roll out PR because you know, the the we help you know we help urban kids live a better life is a great story, but it’s not necessarily a compelling story for for a news agency to wrap their arms around. And so really coming up with what what those hooks are and what that what that really compelling story is and tying it back to the community or, or creating some kind of, you know, something that goes beyond just all the good work that you’re doing as an organization that that tends To be what what, you know, tugs at the heartstrings and really makes a story have legs. And so, you know, as much as you can tell those individual stories where you make the kids the hero of that, I think that that might be an angle two, to consider where you have the ability to do that, obviously, you’re you’re dealing with, with minors and whatnot. So that may be a little bit of a challenge, but perhaps, you know, leveraging some of these graduates and some of these people who’ve been through the program, and, and staying in touch with them, and really getting a good feel for where, where your organization was able to help them on their journey would be a good way to engage when you’re trying to get some earned media.

Yeah, no, that’s really good. Great, great input and insight, you know, and we, you know, like I mentioned a vision event, you know, we had, of course, our alumni speaking there, and we have students that come in and speak it just well, but being able to kind of take it to the level that you’re talking about, definitely makes a lot of sense. So, yeah.

What’s your email list? I mean, you mentioned you, you’ve sent out a newsletter, and you have the ability to send out other emails to to your list, how, what’s that list look like? Is it? Do you know, how many people are on it?

Yeah, there’s probably a couple 1000 folks that will send, you know, information out to a lot of that’s based on our kind of our donor base, as well as board members that we typically send information out to Yeah, now, you know, getting information out to our alumni is a space where we’re moving into getting more intentional about that, as well. But But yeah, I’d say there’s probably a couple 1000 folks that we would send a newsletter out, if we were sending an E newsletter out.

Okay, that’s great. I mean, a list that with a couple 1000 people on it can be, you know, really, really valuable. One of the things that we’ve been doing with clients as well as internally, lately is, is trying to be very specific about the things that we’re doing in our email. So instead of necessarily just sending out a newsletter, which is a little bit of a choose your own adventure, kind of deal, they typically look like newsletters, they typically get ignored, like one might expect a newsletter to get ignored a little bit, just creating the opportunity to tell one story and, and have one ask, and, and leveraging your email list as a as a communication device, that can create a back and forth you know, a lot of times we think of marketing as we’d like to think of marketing, I guess, as as a as a relationship building. And when when you’re just standing on a soapbox, and you know, up there, shouting about all the great things that you do or have done or can do or would like to do, if you just had a little more money. It that turns into kind of a one way conversation. And, and if you think about relationships, I’m sure you’ve had friends or, or acquaintances, I guess they might not be friends in the past that that, that did, you know, didn’t really converse with you, they didn’t have a two way relationship, they just, you know, wanted to spout off all the time, those tend to not be the strongest relationships that can be built. And so really providing that opportunity to just even ask a question about, you know, how, you know, how you’re, how are you living? The, how are you living the Colorado, uplift culture in your daily life? And just ask a question and get some back and forth, and that then creates a relationship. And, and so focusing emails on, you know, on one specific story, or even, you know, even if you are, I mean, we’re coming toward the, you know, this donation season, although I think this is this show will actually air after, after the first of the year, but, you know, at any point during the year when you’re asking for money, for example, you know, really make it just about that, so that people know what the purpose of that of that exchange is. And they can, you know, they can choose to ignore that or, or not, but ultimately, you’ve you’ve narrowed it down to a single choice, as opposed to, you know, Here are nine things that that might interest you, and you have added so that that tends to be something that that we’ve seen work really well for nonprofits.

That’s really good. Thank you.

My pleasure. How often are you are you emailing your, your, your list, do you think?

You know, it’s kind of We got various levels, you know, so if the board members on that list are probably getting more regular emails, I would say they’re, you know, probably every six weeks to two months, they have we have a touch point with with them, okay, that lists the broader list, maybe a kind of a quarterly type type touch-point with them. And then, you know, then we have the more generic invitations to events and that type of thing for our list. And then of course, we have a tailored invitations, as well. So I would say, just depending on who the person is on the list, anywhere from, you know, a handful of times a year, you know, up to, you know, 12 times.

gotcha,gotcha. Yeah, it sounds like you’re doing a good job with segmenting the list as well, which is, which is great, where you’re, you’re having, you know, telling different stories or, or having different engagements or interactions with, with different segments of that list. So that’s, that’s fantastic, you know, some of the things that, and you’ve mentioned a lot about going back to your, to your graduates and, and, you know, this is what we call kind of the Inspire phase of the, of the stakeholder journey, where you have an opportunity to, to reengage that audience to get them to do something else, as well as to get them to share your story. And, and so you’re creating an opportunity for them to be able to share their story, either, you know, on social media, encouraging them to do that, or just providing them with avenues, where they can start to tell people about their experience with your organization, that that list that, you know, those 2000 people who at some point have raised their hands and said, Hey, I like this organization, I want to help, you know, there are always always ways to get them reengaged to escalate their engagement, so turn a one time donor into a monthly donor. You know, if you ask somebody for 200 bucks, you know, a lot of people are that they don’t have 200 bucks that they can just fork over today. But if you ask him for 20 bucks a month, right? You know, a lot of people can say, Yeah, you know, I can give up a couple, a couple of six packs of beer or, or, you know, a trip to the movies, or whatever it is that they they would normally spend $20 on. And if you can get them to do that month over month, you actually just made 240 bucks. So creating those opportunities and giving people you know, when you when you do provide options, giving them options for engagement like that, that can be you know, a way to escalate the way that they’re interacting with your your organization. Yeah, that’s really good. Love it? Do you? Do you have a hard time? I mean, it sounds like you have a waiting list. So there’s a there’s good awareness, either through the schools or through individuals? What’s the what’s the typical way that people become familiar with with Colorado uplift?

Yeah, so the primary means is through the presence of our staff in the schools and the students themselves. You know, our teacher, mentors are actually at the schools, that a teacher record for the classes that they teach. So they’re in, you know, a lot of the staff meetings that they’re they have, they’re there on campus there. So they’re interacting with students, often. They’re in the hallways, with students. So there’s direct interaction in our dhafir is having with students, as well as with the administrator. So, you know, we had, you know, perfect examples over at George Washington High School. We added another class at the principal’s requests, okay. He understands the program. And, you know, we were doing two classes over there. And right now, one of the classes it was, it is it was the biggest class, he offered George Washington High School, High School with 41 students. And we had a second class with 40 students. And she said, Well, you know, can we do with a third class, so we added a third class with 35 students, and we still have 30 students waiting to get in. So in that case, it was students, you know, telling other students is the presence of our of our of our staff there, but it’s also the administrators or the staff, at the schools, recognizing what we do. The principal said, Hey, we we’d love to have you all do more. We and we have a similar things that have have happened. Similar things have happened at other schools, you know, at West, you know, we’re high school there and they asked us to be a part of their advisory group, which meant that we were actually teaching classes on resilience and you know, some other character traits and character qualities for students in a more expanded way, but that was the administration coming to us asking us if we can engage. So I guess the shortest your question in terms of how students hear about us and get into the program, it happens, you know, primarily through our, the presence of our staff being near the interface that they’re already having with not just our current students, but other students outside the program. And then administrators recommending our program and advocating for students to participate in sign up.

That’s really cool. Um, so are these elective classes. How does the how does the program work?

Yeah, so that’s exactly what it is. So, you know, student was signed up for Colorado uplift as an elective. And it goes on our transcript that way. Okay. So instead of an art class, versus they would they will they don’t take this class. In fact, we just launched this past year in gateway High School over in Aurora. And I ran into a lady a few months ago, it was like right at the beginning of school, and she was telling me about how her son, somehow she felt like he could mistakenly he thought it mistakenly got signed up for uplift, and he actually wanted an art class. Okay. And he told her, here’s what Mommy does, I’m gonna have to go get because I know what this class about. So he actually just got into the class, I didn’t know about it. Well, he showed up to class and fell in love with the class. So she told me that she had he, he told her that there’s no way I’m getting out of this class. He’s like, already anymore. But after he went to class one day, he’s like, No, because I’m gonna stay in this class. So he went in by accident, you know, big, you know, changing and getting getting into his art class. So now he’s, he’s taken uplift as an elective instead. So anyway, but the point, the point is that yes, is an elective that goes in our transcript, and then at the middle school level, is as an elective as well. Most of the middle schools, though, we treat it more like as an enrichment program for them. And then the elementary schools, of course, it’s just a class that they get a couple of times a week when we take students there.

Gotcha. And do you have so you mentioned there were some after school programs as well? Do you? Do you have to have been part of the the class to participate in the after, after school programs? Or do those then also kind of enable you to reach more kids?

Yeah. So yeah, great, great question. So no, you do not, you know, we have our our core group of students that participate in our after school programs, many of them are in our classes, and is just kind of a natural extension of the relationship that we have, and that we built with them into class. But there are a number of students who are not able to take the class because they can’t fit on a transcript where they’ve maybe they’ve taken took the class or freshman year, don’t have space or need to retake the class or sophomore year. So there’s a lot of variables like that, where we definitely allow students, you know, to be a part of the pro after school program, even if they’re not taking the in school class.

Yeah, that’s great, I was just trying to think of ways to expand, enable you to expand the program without having to necessarily scale staff just by providing, you know, materials or resources outside of that classroom. So, you know, essentially thinking about that culture expansion, you know, just providing opportunities for people to engage and get, get kind of steeped in your methodology or your your mission, if they weren’t able to actually access the class, and I don’t know, if you’re, if your curriculum would allow that or not, but that, you know, in terms of reaching your mission, or expanding that mission, you know, that might be way that might be a way to drive those numbers up to actually make a significant impact. A positive effect on on more kids, as well as create that ability to tell that story to solicit more fun, more funding from donors, where you’re, you’re establishing and demonstrating your not only desire to but ability to, to reach even more kids. And if, if you just had a little more support, you know, think think about all the great things you could do. So I you know, I don’t know if that fits in with your model or not, but, but certainly that might be something to consider.

Absolutely. Yeah. So you know, this past summer, you know, we had about 400 students that went through our Venture Program, for instance, you know, it wasn’t a class based program. It was just an adventure program where we took kids up to the mountains. They did, you know, camping trips, they did, you know, seven day trail trips. Oh, wow. That’s fishing and then we had, we had boxing, I mean, there was a variety of activities that to your point that weren’t necessarily tied to a class, but these were a programmed program that they can get involved in, in. And then with our mentoring, the after school mentoring, you know, for us, you know, everything is about their development. And the ideas create, you know, structures of challenge support and accountability in the context of a relationship. That’s how we believe that all of us grow, really. And so we leverage these activities, in order to get at that, and to your point, we can do have to definitely do that outside of the classroom. In fact, I’d say some of the most meaningful growth and development we see in our students is outside of the classroom context. So very consistent there. The other thing that I think, too, that bolsters what you’re getting at is, you know, the way we track our students, we used to just look at the number of students we work with, one of the things we’re able to do now with our Salesforce platform is we’re actually able to look at the number of interactions we have with with students. Okay, great, just a number of interactions, a level of interactions. And so by that what we mean is that the last year, we know we had over 127,000 interactions with students, and then we can take that, that, that that number, and break that down and say, okay, somebody, students were in class students where we’re seeing them, you know, almost every day, right, yes, that that’s a level one, you know, type of interaction. And so that’s kind of a highest level, we’re seeing the students on a regular regular basis. But we also know that there are some students that only show up for our programs and after school, so they may be like at this at the second level, but we’re still attracting that interaction. And then we have a third level, where it’s not as frequent. So it actually we have a system in place, as my point to track that type of interaction that goes beyond just, you know, your person being in a classroom, and also start tying in, you know, the, the not just the static, here’s how many interactions we have, we can also start tying in targets of how do we want to, you know, improve? How do we want to enhance that number of interact? Or how do we take a student from level two, to get them to a level one, or level three, let’s get them to a level two. So it allows us to be a little bit more intentional with the interactions is, is the point I’m getting at, in, clearly, a lot of those are going to occur outside of the classroom.

Yeah, I mean, that’s amazing tracking, and measurement is one of those pieces, that’s not very much fun. In one’s one’s, you know, organization, it’s, it just feels like, you know, it’s hard to do, and you’re like, I’d really want to go be doing this other thing. But when you have that data, and you can leverage it to, you know, to really help bolster the storytelling. So, you know, if you can demonstrate how, how much of a positive impact you have on on those kids who who do make it to level one, or level two, or level two, or level three, and then obviously, level three over over nothing. You know, though, those become really great ways to get people to get engaged. And then, you know, when you’re, when you’re trying to get people engaged, you’re giving them opportunities to, you know, to be engaged on a variety of different levels. So, you know, some people may be able to, they may have more, more time than they have, you know, disposable income, to, to help with the program. And so just getting them to share why they think the program is is great with their networks. You know, that’s, that’s a valuable mechanism by which you can you can get people involved, who otherwise might feel like they aren’t able to, to help. You know, leveraging the power of, of your matching donations, I know, a lot of a lot of businesses out there will do employee, you’ll do matches on on employee, either volunteer time, or, or, or donations. And so you’re just trying to figure out all of those little ways where you can, you can, you know, get people give people the ability to, to help and and join your join the culture and the community. 

Yeah, yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense. And, you know, and, you know, to your point about how it’s not fun tracking all the time, but, you know, that really was back to what we were saying earlier about this to systems and processes and at fortify phase, you know, part of the reason why we’re just launching into our build phases because we felt like we had to build, you know, an infrastructure to support the eventual growth. So now that we have something like that in place, as we expand as we grow as we scale, we actually have a way to track that, that scaling and growth and also be very intentional with that growth. So that to me is one example of how we’ve postured ourselves to scale.

And that’s great, I’m sure that you learned a lot with your time in the air force in terms of building systems. So it’s really cool to see how you’re applying that to the, to the nonprofit space at this point. Yeah, yes.

But you say that, because I, It’s so itchy, because so much of my career and Air Force, you’re right, you know, we spent a lot of time thinking, you know, systems thinking in, in really planning and strategies and contingencies and concepts of operation and, you know, operational plans. And so, a lot of time and and little did I know, that I will be applying that to in a nonprofit space, because, you know, if you were to ask me a few years before I, you know, felt called to retire, I mean, I, I would have told you that I was going to spend another 20 years in the Air Force, right, a few years before that. But, you know, clearly, God had other plans for my life. And I’m just, again, happy and honored to be a part of this process. And whatever I can do to apply, you know, some of the things maybe that I learned in the mural military was relevant, I’m definitely going to try to continue to do that.

Right. Do you have other ways for people to get involved in terms of volunteering? Or? Or, you know, what are what are some of the other ways that people can can help spread the word?

Yeah, so I mentioned the community. up-lifters and one of the things that comes with that, you know, the the one said, you can just say, Hey, I, I support choropleth I stand with you you more in line, now, you can just stop, say I’m a community up-lifter. But the other thing is with community up-lifters, we also offer up opportunities throughout the year for folks to volunteer and get involved. So if you say I want to be a community up-lifter and I want to get involved with uplift, we have an annual voluntary event, where we actually go and do half day of service in the schools, in the name, neighborhoods that we serve in this, you know, consists of planting gardens and painting murals, and, you know, cleaning up, you know, rooms and a space in parking lots around many of the schools that we serve in a lot of these schools don’t have, you know, huge budgets. And so, you know, these principles are very grateful. When we come in, you know, just for half a day, you know, we’ve had just a couple events, but you know, one year I think we had about 400, folks, this past year, we had fewer folks, but you know, we get quite a bit of work done and a half a day. And so we plan to continue to do that. So that’s one way to plug in to sign up to be a part of our big lift event. The other way for folks to get involved, we typically have like a back to school kind of backpack drive, okay, for our students. And so that’s a way to get engaged, if you want to help us purchase or even stuff, backpacks have another way to get involved during the holiday season that we’re you know, I know when this airs, it might be after holiday season, but there’s definitely opportunities to provide meals, and help sponsor and support families, you know, as as as well. And so those are some of the ways that we’ve seen folks sign up or get get get directly involved with what we’re doing. In addition to that, we have one of the things I didn’t talk about yet, it’s an advanced leadership program, that where we actually allow our students to get our students get college credits, in addition to high school credit for the class, there’s a class that we offer up where to get college credits, awarded by CU Denver. And it’s a course that focuses in on organizational leadership. Okay, mine were oftentimes inviting speakers and trying to set up panels for our students. So folks that want to come in and kind of share a little bit about their industry and what they’re doing and about the opportunities, you know, career opportunities. We’re always looking for folks to sign up to do that. So those are the kinds of ways that we’ve recently gotten folks involved.

Yeah, that sounds great. I mean, it gives you all these different touch points and ways to allow people to share their expertise and you know, and maybe maybe inspire people to do some things that they didn’t even know about. To how do you so so are people kind of chomping at the bit to help with with this stuff, or are they are you d need to really get that word out more? What’s, how’s that program working?

Yeah, so I think it’s a, it’s a both. And I would say that yes, there are people chomping at the bit, and we need to do a better job of getting the word out. You know, in terms of the big lift initiative, it was interesting, you know, pass, you know, 18 months have been challenging. And so, you know, you know, the idea of doing a, you know, big event where 42 people gather together wasn’t really an option for us, you know, a year ago. And, you know, as things have opened up a little bit, we were able to this past August, you know, do a smaller event with a few 100, folks. And the hope is that, you know, when we do this again, in the spring, that will, you know, we’ll have 1000 folks out there. So we, you know, we we are not at 1000 people yet, in your room. So if there’s anybody out there that want to sign up, that is chomping at the bit, we will have that opportunity for you to do that, you know, in the spring, in terms of other smaller initiatives that that we engage in, where folks come out and speak and that type of thing, we typically have a pretty decent list, but we are always still looking to keep that list full, so that when we, you know, we say we have a class and a class is focused on, you know, the high tech industry, you know, it’d be nice to be able to, to reach out to seven or eight folks with the hopes that three or four would be available to come to that class, for instance. So we’re always looking to keep that list that list full, and it’s not completely full. Now, we do have people on the list, but it’s not full yet. So the opportunities are there.

That’s great. Did it sounds like you you’re doing a really good job of creating hybrid event opportunities as well for during the this pandemic that has been going now, I think when this drops for almost two years. Um, so that’s really great. How have you, what are some of the the tricks that you’ve employed in in terms of creating kind of hybrid events that that work well, for? For your organization?

Yeah, so for us, we had, I mentioned, the vision event we had, and then we had a gala that we did a little bit over a year. And those events were normally full on in person events with several 100 folks together with with, you know, issues around COVID. We had to go remote. And then this last we had to go, you know, kind of a hybrid. And what we did is we we established a series of watch parties, okay, well, we we we sent the event out, we you know, per recorded a large portion of the event, and sent that out and, and just encourage folks to have watch parties with with smaller groups of folks that they felt comfortable watching the event with the other thing in terms of engaging, you know, outside support, or, you know, people to come and help our students directly, definitely leveraging zoom, to do those types of things where they can still speak to the class, but they can do that. And over zoom, right things we did with our advanced leadership class, we were actually worked with a local company. And typically what we do is take our students to the company to do in person site visit. But with COVID, we ended up doing all of those visits, through zoom, we also hosted virtual site visits for folks, because a lot of times we’ll have people that want to come and see how we do what we do. And so we’ll typically bring them into, you know, high school or middle school and get a chance to meet some of the students talk to some administrators, were students with an action. Well, throughout COVID what we we had to pivot to was just a lot giving them a code access to one of our classes. And they got a chance to sit there and you know, listen in but also got a chance to, to participate in in chime in and provide some insight and some input over over zoom called. So. So again, just so leveraging technology to stay connected is basically what we’ve tried to do.

Yeah, it’s great. I love the watch party idea. I had a gentleman on the show, not too long ago. His name is Dave Jensen, and he has a group or a business called encompass event group. And they put on events, you know, both live events as well as completely virtual events. And one of the one of the recommendations that he had was to to create those kind of hub opportunities where you have you have these watch parties going on kind of outside of the main hub, and you’re able to go to those remote areas in some sort of capacity to kind of create an additional level of enthusiasm and Buzz during the event that they that allows you to break the event up a little bit so it’s not just you know, some guy talking to his his his camera on Zoom for an hour and a half, right? But but it enables you to, to create some segmentation and, and get, you know, get some energy injected into that event as you kind of move around those, those those spokes, I guess of the of the event, so that’s really cool that you’ve figured that out and, and were able to leverage that opportunity with with your event planning. That’s, that’s fantastic stuff.

Yeah, that was it’s, you know, again, we, we learn a lot from having to do those types of things. And, you know, I imagine that even when we can go back to the more traditional big groups of folks, there are some elements of what you’re talking about that we would still want to want to maintain. And that’s one of the things I think that’s been for us really need to see, you know, I always say that, you know, we’re gonna emerge from this pandemic stronger and better as an organization, I believe that, you know, we will be more innovative, I think we’ll be more intentional with what we do. And, and also they will be more connected with not just our, you know, are our students in with each other, but also with our partners, and with our customers trying to figure out, okay, what do you really, really want? What do you really, really need? We used to just do this, but now it’s forced us to go back and Okay, well, what do you really need from this? Because we can’t just do the same thing we did before we got to do something different, but how do we still make sure we meet the intent, immature intent, so we’ve actually had to go back and ask those questions, because of the pandemic, in ways that we made, have just made some assumptions in the past. And so it’s a great growth opportunity for us.

Yeah, I agree. I think there’s positives that can come out of out of everything. And certainly, this has been an interesting couple years. And I wouldn’t want to minimize the, you know, the negative effect that that all of this has had on, on, you know, society in general, however, I like the idea and the intention to, to try to try to see through, you know, as much as one can see through the the challenges and really look for opportunities and sounds like that’s what you guys are doing, doing over there at Colorado uplift.

Yeah, no, I’m really trying to do that. And, you know, you remind when you say see through as a thing, as Bill George talks about this idea of just, just vision, and how it really involves that kind of seeing through the fog and friction of things, and still being able to see, you know, kind of like the bright side on the other side. And so as you were saying it that reminded me of that, and I, I believe that’s a perspective that, you know, organizations, if you’re truly are gonna, kind of not just survive, but ultimately thrive, you know, being able to see through, you know, the challenges and see through the fog and see through the friction of things, and still maintain that, that focus on, you know, ultimately, you know, what, what your goals, your values, and your, your broader vision is, again, not easy to do, but something that I think we all should strive to do.

And I’m sure those are part of the things that you’re teaching all of the all the great kids that you get to work with. On a daily basis. It still is funny, you say that too? Because I do think is, you know, it’s almost another level of accountability for us, right? Because I think sometimes, you know, we tell our kids, you know, you got these challenging conditions, and, you know, and in our life, you know, COVID aside, pandemic, aside some of the challenges that our students deal with our just, it’s amazing to me i the the fact that they actually are able to make it to school and function to our day, knowing some of the things that they’re dealing with, it blows my mind. And so we’re telling them, you know, you can work through this, and you can still see possibilities, and you guessed it, we’re telling them that and class, well, we better make sure that we’re practicing what we’re preaching on this. And so it is an extra level of accountability to say, you know, what, yes, we have some challenges. Yes, there are some conditions that we’re we don’t care for, but what new context of possibility can we create from this? So that is the attitude we’ve tried to adopt as an organization to mirror it to be consistent with the exact same lessons, like you say, we’re trying to teach our students.

That’s awesome. I love it. How can people find out more about how to get involved and you know, just more about what you guys are up to?

Yeah, I would say go to Colorado, uplift all one word.org And if you go there, you’ll you’ll see a lot about our programs, you’ll see some more about our vision. And as I said before, you know, ultimately about transforming lives and transforming communities and we just hope that you know, that’s something that one of the listeners or several lift listeners will be compelled to, to engage in. And so yeah, they can just go and And reach out through through that. And you know, personally, you could reach out to me as well. You give me a direct call, if you have a question. And again, you can find our contact information there on our website.

That’s great show. I really appreciate you being on the show today. And I’ve had such a great time chatting with you about Colorado uplift and all the great stuff that you’re up to, and, and what’s what’s ahead for you guys. As you may know, I love having these these conversations, but I also want to inspire action with people. And if if somebody were were able to take some kind of an action to help the world, help make the world a better place help bring some joy into a kid’s life help help move the needle for for some of these, some of the some of the people here on Earth, what, what do you think would be one thing that you would like for them to do after listening to the show?

Yeah, you know, I mentioned earlier, you know, this idea of elevating compassion, and character. You know, I would just say if people would take the time to actually listen, I truly, truly listen. And I know it sounds like a simple thing to do. But to truly listen to someone, or somebody that’s outside of their current sphere of influence, or your current communities, taking intense effort, or making an attempt to effort to listen to them, I think that could make a difference and could impact the level of compassion that we have for each other.

Well, I think that is an amazing action item that everyone should have on their list is to just just give people the space to to be heard. And you know, you might not agree with them completely, but at least get get some understanding of where they’re coming from. That’s right. That’s fantastic.

Yeah. Thanks so much for being on the show today, Joe. I really appreciate it.

But thank you, Stu, appreciate you and appreciate all the great insight as well.

Oh, it’s entirely My pleasure. I’ll talk to you soon.

All right. Take care now. 

Bye. 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?