Episode 39: Develop Your Organization’s Culture To Further Your Mission With The Apollo Foundation

RTNP 39 | Culture Of Philanthropy

 

Culture is an important ingredient in every business—and it’s an area that sometimes gets overlooked in the nonprofit space. After all, nonprofits are steeped in the culture of philanthropy and altruism, right?

There’s more to creating a great culture than just assuming all of your stakeholders will be aligned because you give back.

Today’s show features a team of young go-getters from the Apollo Foundation. This group of high schoolers saw an opportunity to help bring education to those in need around the world. So they founded their organization to improve access to STEM curricula in under-developed and economically disadvantaged areas.

Our discussion covered a wide range of topics. Then we narrowed our focus later in the show to discuss ways to develop a culture for your organization, in order to ensure that your team is all driving toward the same mission.

Values, vision, and mission are key ingredients for every organization, and taking the time to discuss and develop these foundational elements can make or break your business.

Action Ask: Don’t let something hold you backfrom doing what you think is right

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Develop Your Organization’s Culture To Further Your Mission With The Apollo Foundation

My guests in this episode are from the Apollo Foundation. They have this cool organization that’s touching lives worldwide and helping to change the way that education is handled for the underprivileged around the world. This is a group of great go-getter high school kids who decided to create this foundation. One of the things that we talked about was the culture in the organization and how to make sure that everybody is aligned and all driving toward that North Star. It was a conversation that went all over the place in terms of topics. These guys are doing some neat stuff. I’m excited for you to be able to read it, and I hope you enjoy it. Here we go.

How are you doing?

Good.

Great.

We have the team from the Apollo Foundation on the show. Where are you guys all calling in from?

West Windsor, New Jersey.

I’ll let you kick it off with a little bit of history and information about the Apollo Foundation. I’m excited to learn a little bit more about what you’re doing. It sounds like you’re doing some cool things to help people in the Middle East.

This was in our freshman year. Ishan, who started this, also started this in his freshman year, but he came in one year later. We started this, and Ishan came up with this project called the Roshni Project, which is situated in Bihar, India. This focuses on providing education for underprivileged students in that area. That is the first project we started off with. We grew from there, from studying to working with other foundations and different parts of the world.

To preface, our mission is generally the fund to provide accessible education to underprivileged schools and students in rural communities around the world that are suffering from poverty. The one we started with is the Roshni Foundation. It’s called the Roshni Learning Center in Bihar, India. It’s a school with two branches, and they have around 150 students. What we do is provide curriculum material and funds generally to make sure the environment of education is proper for them to learn.

Is it mostly in STEM or across all?

At first, we were doing general subjects, but we also are doing a project that focused on STEM and robotics, and Ishan can talk more about that.

It’s also worth mentioning that we did start with the Roshni Project. As you said, we have other initiatives in the Middle East, which is our Yemen initiative. We’ve also created initiatives in Cameroon and East Africa through the Atlantic Foundation. I’m going to let Aarush explain more about the robotics side of it.

I wanted to preface quickly and talk a bit more about the process because it’s important to shed light upon that. The way we approached this is that we all had this idea that we wanted to give back to people who don’t necessarily have the same educational opportunities and people who don’t have equal access to resources for education. Where the process comes in is not only do we want to provide for these people in need, but we also want to bring our local community and some other pupil from different chapters. We want to bring these people in and help with this project.

Our foundation has three large main rings. We have things for supporting these children in schools directly. This comes in the form of funding and making sure that they have adequate resources and whatever is necessary for them. We also have general things for education, so developing curriculum and making sure that they have the resources, especially if it’s in their native language. We make sure that they can understand all that.

Lastly, we have something where we have set up a communication platform for different chapters that we have. Since this is an organization, we have different people working from different parts of the world. We have people ranging from different states in the US and places in India. It’s cool to be able to connect with different people. That is how we hone in on making sure that we’re giving back to these people.

To talk one quick thing about their advice before I hand this off to Abhi, we also want to make sure that we’re developing their STEM skills a little as well. Not only are we taking the approach of simple education and making sure that they’re aware of different concepts and subjects. We also want to make it a bit more hands-on where they have some robotics kits that they can play along with and develop skills that they wouldn’t be able to before.

 

RTNP 39 | Culture Of Philanthropy
Culture Of Philanthropy: Older kids didn’t have the same foundation to succeed as younger ones. Focusing more on their skill level is a better approach.

 

Something that we noticed was that we were focusing on STEM education. We realized that these children didn’t have the background to learn STEM and learn these difficult concepts. We tracked back and decided to focus on the curriculum in general and the more basic levels where we could try to help them with English, Math, and Science that were necessary to succeed in a STEM career.

What we tried to do was build a variety of curriculums. We succeeded by getting other people to make them as well. We were able to provide them with enough information and a base for their success in the future. What we also were able to do was we were able to provide the children in India with the Bihar Project, specifically the Roshni Project, where we were able to give them this curriculum and then eventually build their foundation into a more STEM-based curriculum.

At what ages are you folks starting your engagement? Are these grade-schoolers? Are they older than that? Where do you folks plugin?

It’s mostly grade-schoolers.

Is grade school the primary initial focus?

Yes, but we also noticed that a lot of the older kids didn’t have the same foundation or things that needed to succeed. We didn’t do it based on age but based on skill level because that’s something we noticed that everyone was lacking certain things. We started with people at certain concepts rather than the age groups.

How long have you folks been doing this?

For a few years now.

What are some of the successes that you’ve seen to date? Where are you seeing good traction? You’re getting some great traction because you’re expanding into different parts of the world. Tell me a few of the success stories.

I can kick it off with one. One thing that we would consider a success is the connections that we’ve gotten out of this organization. That’s something that’s not talked about too much. As high schoolers, we consider being able to connect with not only other children in need but also people other than us that are helping, be it the local or global communities. One of the successes is that we’re allowed to connect with them and reach out to them for any advice we need or general things such as that.

You folks started this a few years ago in your freshman year. Are you all seniors now?

We’re juniors, and Ishan is a sophomore now.

What are the biggest challenges that you guys are facing? Is it getting donors? Is it bringing in people to help as mentors in the program? What are the biggest challenges that you see with the program now?

At this point, getting donors is a pretty good steady basis for getting some money but what we’re having trouble with is securing sponsorships because many companies are having trouble, especially during the pandemic. They don’t have much resources to spend on nonprofits. That’s essentially the main point we’re struggling with, but donation-wise, we’re not struggling in that aspect.

Tell me a little bit about your sponsorships. What types of people are you trying to engage?

As a STEM-based organization where we try to help specifically improve STEM education, we try to get sponsorships and help from these companies that focus on software or that can also act as mentors. Not only funds. We sponsored with Bentley Partnerships, which is a large software company, which proved to be beneficial for us. They are hosting a hackathon that was international and had many people attending.

 

Check-in on the people close to you because they appreciate you more than you think. Go for whatever you’re passionate about.

 

Have you managed to put together some virtual events?

It’s been hard with the situation we have with the pandemic. We’ve been trying to work hard on hosting certain events. As Abhi mentioned, one of them was the hackathon that we hosted. It was a new experience for us being able to get some people participating and setting up this event as a whole. In the future, we’re planning to do some more events. It can be along the lines of a hackathon. We’re also planning to do some other events and competitions with some of the other branches that we have.

Tell me a little more about the types of sponsors you’re looking for. It sounds like software companies and robotics. What’s your strategy around bringing new sponsors on?

A core tenet in our search to find sponsors is finding sponsors that reflect our interests. That reflects the education we are trying to provide to the students we’re supporting. Since we do have a bit of a greater emphasis on STEM and robotics curriculums, we are accepting of all types of sponsors, but the sponsors that are most interested in working with us are usually ones that are software companies and ones that do their work in the STEM fields.

What’s your approach to getting in front of people? Do you have a fantasy target list that you’ve put together in terms of like, “If we could get these five people on board, we’d be thrilled to death?” What’s your process?

It’s not a fantasy list. It’s more of us, cold emailing and cold calling tech companies near us. For example, there’s one that we’re looking towards is LSInextgen technologies. The CEO is good friends with Barack Obama. What we’re trying to do is gain a connection with the CEO and try to use his connections to get on a bigger platform and speak about our foundation. That publicity helps our foundation.

We’re also looking at companies that have helped FIRST Robotics in the past. FIRST Robotics is an organization that Aarush was talking about before we partnered with FIRST Robotics teams, who compete in competitions across the US and other countries as well. We’re looking at companies who are sponsoring them and who could also sponsor our cause. Another big thing that’s helping us is our volunteering platforms. Rian can talk about that in terms of fundraising in every department.

We’ve constructed three volunteering departments as part of the Apollo Foundation to manage our volunteers. We have our Fundraising Department, General Outreach Department, and Operations Department. With fundraising, the main focus is on fundraising and trying to find and create events that we could host to bring in more money for our initiatives.

It’s like a creative base for any of the major activities. The hackathon was a product of the fundraising department that we helped create through that. Like the other departments, the Public Relations Department is mainly based on social media and trying to get our name out there in terms of other aspects, such as newspapers, public publications, or partnering with the company. We also did do a partnership with Bentley too. They would be publicizing us as well.

How’s that going?

We’re keeping up our social media accounts. It’s the same thing with sponsorships. It’s a little bit more difficult to find companies that are willing to publicize this during the pandemic, but we are working through it. We do have some exciting projects in store for that. The operations department is mainly based on creating the curriculums we provide for the initiatives we host in India, Africa, and the Middle East. We create worksheets and instructional videos in that department, and we have volunteers. We recruit our volunteers into these departments. The work of our volunteers is mainly focused on and directed into the scope of each department.

You are using volunteers to fuel the heavy lifting in each of these divisions within your organization.

We’re starting to transition into that. In the beginning, we didn’t have a lot of volunteers. Ishan was Head of Operations. I was Head of Public Relations. We try to do it our own way and get the job done in terms of that when we don’t have volunteers. Now, we are trying to direct it into something more volunteer-based. We can supervise the process going forward.

Are you trying to tap other high school kids to do the volunteer work? Are you looking for older people? What’s the volunteer base look like?

Mostly, we haven’t tapped into the base of getting older people to hop on volunteering. Any volunteers are welcome, but our main direction towards getting volunteers has been a high school and middle school students.

Tell me a little bit about your outreach. I know you’re on LinkedIn because that’s where I met all of you. Where else are you active in terms of social media?

 

RTNP 39 | Culture Of Philanthropy
Culture Of Philanthropy: Relationships you’re building in social media impact must be aligned with the target audience you’re trying to hit.

 

I can plug our Instagram. It’s @ApolloFDN. You can follow us there. We do a post related to any events that we’re hosting or new partnerships that we acquire. We also manage our Facebook and Twitter with the same handle, @ApolloFDN. You can check us out there. We post more on Instagram, but we do post any major announcements or partnerships on there as well.

As a preface, there are also some other projects we do other than the Roshni Project. There’s also the Lewa Conservancy Project. Like Rian mentioned before, we partnered with the Asante Africa Foundation. We’re in talks with the CEO. Her name is Erna Grasz. She’s into what we do in terms of STEM education and how we can help their initiatives. They have many initiatives and regional coordinators in multiple countries in East Africa. The one that we’re mainly focusing on is Kenya.

They’re helping the Lewa Conservancy Project. It’s essentially a wildlife conservancy project. What they do is, once a month, they go around a vehicle with suitcases and handle suitcases out to underprivileged students in schools that they sponsor. It’s a wildlife conservancy project, but they also sponsor schools around them.

It’s an educational program trying to get kids to understand wildlife conservancy through education. Is there a tie-in?

It’s not that much of a tie-in. There are some people from the Asante Africa Foundation who started this wildlife conservancy project, but they’re also sponsoring schools on them in those rural areas. What they do is those suitcases have textbooks in them ranging from a subject like Math, Economics and stuff like that. What they do is hand out those suitcases. It’s essentially a library on wheels, is what they call it. That’s a cool thing. They also help schools and places like Uganda, which we’re also looking to reach out to. Mainly, our focus is on this Lewa Conservancy Project and helping them incorporate STEM.

You’re trying to come in and help them with curricula. That’s where the biggest tie-in happens to your foundation.

There’s also another one in a project in Cameroon. The school is called St. Joseph Foundation School. We have a regional director there who’s part of our organization and also heading the operations at Cameroon itself. It’s in Yaoundé, Cameroon, the capital. Essentially, it’s an underprivileged school with around 150 to 200 students.

They are unlike Roshni and the Lewa Conservancy Project. They are around 16 to 18 years old. They’re older and around our age. What we’re doing is also providing monetary donations to them so that we can make sure the building’s infrastructure is sustainable and effective for all these students. Our regional director and some other teachers coordinate that school. They’re preparing the older students for GRE exams as well.

You folks are doing a lot, and it’s inspiring to talk with some younger people who are getting after it. You’re all over the world. You’re doing a ton of things. Let’s step back to the question of engaging with potential partners and sponsors. You are doing a lot of cold emails and cold calling. What’s that process look like? Are you pitching immediately? Are you trying to build relationships? How are you approaching that acquisition?

Abhi, you can piggyback off me for this as well. The general process for connecting with either cold calls and cold emails is we generally try to make use of our personal connections a lot since we have a lot of people in our foundation. We try to branch off to other connections that we have on different social media applications or platforms such as LinkedIn. It’s the most commonly used one for us. Based on that, we can connect with these people and sponsors. That’s the general process for what it looks like. It is making use of personal connections first, then branching out to the external domain, which is what we call it. Abhi, if you want to talk more about this.

It’s more on a small scale, specifically for our specific headquarters of Apollo Foundation. We also try to get our volunteers to call, email, and cold call like, “We were wondering if we could have a call with you and discuss further ideas or talk specifically about getting sponsorships and what we do.”

It’s per se inefficient, but we have had some success rate with it. That’s the only way we know how to do it and continue to do it that way. We are looking to hopefully expand and find ways to increase our efficiency in getting sponsorships. Especially in this time, people don’t want to sponsor when they are struggling in their own businesses.

It’s an interesting time. We work a lot in the nonprofit space, as you might imagine. We’ve seen both sides of it in terms of the willingness for people to come on and support a nonprofit organization and some of the challenges associated with that as well. This is anecdotal. One of the things that we have seen is some nonprofits have pretty good success with getting a lot more engagement on a smaller level. People want to participate, but they aren’t participating in the multi 5-figure or 6-figure donation level or sponsorship level.

That provides a couple of opportunities. The first one is in this list-building phase. What would be interesting for you to consider is instead of going for the, “Would you like to be a sponsor,” type of ask in those initial conversations, slow that down and come at this from the idea that relationships are what you’re trying to build. Relationships are built by having lots of interactions over a period of time.

When you meet a new friend, a lot of times, people click immediately, and away you go and your best buddies. Most of the time, it requires a few interactions. It typically requires seeing them in the hall or meeting them for something after school or seeing them online and then doing that several times. You build a rapport, and you’re establishing that relationship. It’s the same with marketing and building these sponsorship types of engagements.

What I would suggest, which you’re positioned pretty well, given that you folks are all in high school, is coming at it from a position of asking people who have a certain amount of expertise in a domain that fits with what you would like to be in terms of a sponsor. For example, find a bunch of robotics companies, reach out to them, and ask them a domain-specific question about robotics, how to get a career in robotics, things that you wish kids were coming out of high school or college knew about robotics, and start to create and build that relationship from that position of curiosity and intentional authenticity as opposed to jumping immediately to the, “Would you like to be a sponsor?”

 

There are always a thousand reasons why you shouldn’t do something. Be the one reason why you do start something and the reason that those thousand reasons don’t exist anymore.

 

That’s this nurturing phase. It’s this first phase of engagement where you’re trying to build that relationship from the ground up, and that will create an opportunity for things to be a lot more strong in the future. When you do have the opportunity to ask them if they might be interested in being a sponsor or having a mentorship capacity with your organization, they’re much more willing to do that because they feel like they know you.

That advice is very important. That’s what we saw with Bentley systems as well. That was one of the first sponsors where we first invited them to our event to show them what we’ve done so far in our progress and connect with them at a more personal level. After which, we asked them for promotional or monetary-based sponsorships. That advice carries too, and it would be much better if we implemented more of that.

It’s great if you can tie in what they’re doing to what you’re doing in terms of giving them something to talk about. This goes for PR as well if you’re looking for earned media, which is where you go out and pitch a story to a newspaper or an online publication. Getting a story that people can wrap their arms around helps a ton when trying to get somebody to even help you with reach. Essentially, the Bentley organization, if you can feed them stuff to use that ties into what they’re doing, it brings your name into the mix that they can then share with their wider social media audience. Smoothing that transition and giving them that runway is effective.

One thing I like about that idea is that it’s very content-based. That’s something that we learned, especially once the pandemic set in. I’ll give you an example. Before, it was around February or March 2020 when COVID was first starting to be a thing. We were planning an in-person hackathon in our local area. We were going to host it at a hotel. It was like one of that relationship-building and the nurturing phase that you were talking about. We were planning on doing that in our local area, partnering with local businesses.

One specific example, Ishan, can correct me if I’m wrong. It was the Crown Plaza Hotel. We were going to host the event. That would have been a great example of something of an organization that we could have partnered with because we had a relationship. We were talking back and forth with one of the representatives at the Crown Plaza Hotel. We were planning on hosting our event there. I would imagine that’s what you mean by building friends and creating the rapport that we need to garner sponsorship and stuff.

The other thing I would add to that is to make sure particularly those relationships that you’re building in terms of the social media impact are aligned with the target audience you’re trying to hit. It would be an amazing thing to mention that hotel in some of your activities, particularly on social in Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Ask yourself whether or not the people who are following them are the people that you necessarily want to get in front of.

That doesn’t mean that general reach isn’t a good idea because there’s a real benefit to that. Know that more specific reach, so getting in front of Sphero or some of these other robotics companies or software development companies that the audience that they’re going to draw is going to be much more aligned with those that you’re trying to hit in terms of bringing volunteers in and perhaps enticing other people to sponsor. It’s going back to that idea of building a list and thinking about who you would like to talk to, then figuring out ways to get in front of those people. Not immediately go for the ask when you get in front of those people, but try to nurture those relationships.

I know Rian is also on this. We were thinking of doing some webinars with one of our projects with the inspired education initiative in Yemen. What they do is help refugees and children who are forced into labor obtain a proper education. The CEO of this organization, the head of this, her name is Nabilah Hizam. We were thinking of doing some webinars in order to speak about our cause. It probably would be a good virtual platform in order to publicize and stuff. Do you have any input on this in terms of publicity and potential donors?

I like the idea of a recorded event and a webinar. That becomes scalable. It’s something that you can create once, and then you can share it over and over again. In theory, there’s a material that comes out of that. That becomes blog posts or more snackable content that you can use on your social media platforms or elsewhere. Webinars can be great. They can also create an opportunity to reuse the material in its entirety as repeat webinars. You can hold another webinar that feels live but maybe isn’t.

Webinars can go a long way there. What I’m wondering is if you don’t consider spinning up a podcast where you try to bring people on and have conversations about STEM, robotics, education challenges in some of these underprivileged areas, and education in general. To me, that might be a good opportunity to be able to have something to give to people as you reach out to them and start to build this library of information that’s accessible to a wider variety of people who may be interested in a certain specific topic, but you are having those conversations on a regular basis and publishing that material in a podcast form.

Your insights are pretty useful, and we’ll try to use them in the long run. I also wanted to add that since we’re talking about publicity. There’s something that happened which is pretty great for our organization. Since we’re a 501(c)(3) organization, we were able to apply for a Google partnership. Essentially, this partnership gives us $10,000 and in-kind donations per month on Google ads, and so far, we’ve gotten quite a lot out of it. We got around 10,000 interactions over the last couple of months.

When you say an interaction, are you building your email list? What’s an interaction look like for you?

These interactions are going to our website, clicking on the Sign-Up page, signing up to become a volunteer, or getting on our newsletter to learn more about anything Apollo-related.

How many people are on your email list now?

On the email list, that’s hard to check, but I can tell you that we’ve had around 156 volunteers signed up through Google. These are volunteers that show their status, and we can see that they are a part of the newsletter. They’re clicking the emails that we send them.

When you say newsletter, are you sending out something that’s a one-to-many newsletter? Are these emails that you send out on a regular basis?

 

RTNP 39 | Culture Of Philanthropy
Culture Of Philanthropy: The more you can make your emails feel personal, the more effective they actually become.

 

They contain different volunteer opportunities or news about Apollo Foundation, but that’s pretty much its extent.

There are a few things that I would recommend. It’s awesome that you’ve tapped into Google Grants. It’s an amazing program for nonprofits that a lot of them don’t know or don’t know how to get involved with. It’s great to know that you’ve tapped into that program. The first thing I would do is look at the ads you’re running on Google using the Google Grants money you’ve been given. Make sure that you have a landing page on your site that you’re sending that traffic to that’s aligned with what that ad is asking.

If the ad is asking for volunteers, then have a landing page that talks about what it is to be a volunteer and how that person’s time is going to be leveraged to do good in the world in the ways that you bring that greatness to the table. If the ad is more about your, “Join our email list,” go ahead and have a landing page that’s very specific to that ask. Essentially, what you want to create is a great and strong tie-in between what was presented in the ad and what the person receives when they click on that ad. If you’re not doing that, I would highly recommend making sure you do that.

On that landing page, make sure that you optimize that page to tell your value proposition. One of the biggest challenges that nonprofits have is that you can’t necessarily dump people at the top of the funnel and have them go through a few processes, and then you get some activity at the end of that. You’re moving people against gravity. You have to move them uphill. It’s a little bit of a different challenge where there’s friction all along that process.

What you want to do is try to eliminate friction as you’re moving people up that process to make a decision. That friction can be like what I said if there’s a disconnect between the ad they saw and the landing page they get. That’s a friction point that you can reduce by making sure that there’s a good tie-in between those two actions.

Once they’re on the landing page, you can reduce the friction by getting rid of distractions in terms of, are there other things that you’re asking people to do? Are you asking them to donate or look at the leadership team or any of that stuff? If you strip all that stuff away, that reduces friction. It allows people to move up that mountain a lot more effectively until they take that action.

One of the things that you want to do is make sure you tell that value proposition story. Why should people engage with your organization over all of the other opportunities that are out there? Tell that story in a way that places them in the position of the hero. Make them understand why their involvement, whether that be a donation or a volunteer position or coming on as a sponsor. Why doing that with your organization is going to make more of an impact than doing it with any of the other organizations that are doing similar things to what you are up to.

That makes sense because that also ties into contacting robotics and STEM companies who would play that part in terms of us buying those robotics kits for kids in Russia and stuff like that because we can connect to them to what they do.

That’s where relationship building is great. We have people come to us wanting to help us advertise or make an impact. They’ll ask me a question, “Do you want to be known nationwide or locally? Where are you trying to land?” I always start small. I always start with things that enable me to have some connection with people. For example, if I’m trying to run a new campaign. I’m probably going to start here in the Denver or the Colorado area because that’s an immediate differentiation.

It’s an immediate commonality that I have with the people I would be reaching out to. It’s natural for me to say, “My name’s Stu. I have a digital marketing agency called Relish Studio. We’re here in the Colorado area. We also work with nonprofits here in Colorado. Since you’re a Colorado nonprofit, it would be great to have a conversation or connect with you here on LinkedIn or whatever I’m trying to do.”

It’s trying to focus on all of those little things you have in common. For example, if you’ve used somebody’s robotic kit. That’s something that you have in common with them as you’ve used their product. Figure out all those ways. It’s all about reducing friction and creating opportunities to build relationships. Thinking about all those ways where you can get a little bit of a foot in the door goes a long way.

These ideas are great, especially for the long term. After this show, we’re going to go back and try to change our strategy to implement these ideas, especially in our volunteers who do a lot of this small day-to-day stuff for us, the connection wise and stuff. We’re going to try to implement these strategies. They’re helpful.

How often are you mailing out to your email list?

As of now, it’s not so often, but whenever we have an event like we had that hackathon, we would have emails going out almost every week reminding them about it or telling people to reach out to their friends and families to participate in the hackathon. Essentially now, we would send monthly emails talking about what volunteer opportunities there are and what Apollo Foundation is doing at the time.

Have you thought about creating opportunities to share valuable information about your sector in terms of changes in STEM or new technologies that are coming online for kids to learn more effectively in rural areas or things like that? Instead of being so focused on news that’s all about you, try to flip that narrative a little bit and make it informational and value-driven for the audiences you’re engaging with. That might be a way to ensure that your email becomes something that people look forward to and want to engage with.

That makes sense. Would you say we need to change anything in terms of how often we send those emails?

 

If you have any problem in your community, be the first person to fix those things instead of waiting for someone else to do them.

 

One of the things that we’ve been doing, and we see this as valuable for nonprofits in general, is creating opportunities to send emails that tell one story. One of the things that newsletters tend to do is they usually tell a variety of different stories. Within that newsletter, there might be 5 or 6 things that you’re talking about or actions that you might ask people to take, whether read more about this initiative or donate or find out about the hackathon coming up in a few weeks. What that does is it creates distractions, so people don’t necessarily know what you want them to do. Either they take an action that you didn’t want them to take, or they tend to ignore those things.

The other thing that a newsletter doesn’t accomplish is creating this feeling and the idea that your email is a one-to-one conversation. Newsletters are typically not written for a specific person. Think about if your mom sends you an email. It’s text-based. It’s about one thing. Maybe it’s about a couple of things depending upon what your mom is trying to talk to you about at that given moment. Ultimately, it feels like a personal email.

The more you can make your emails feel personal and one-to-one, the more effective they become. Create opportunities to make sure that this is called the email envelope. Who is it being sent from? Is it a person, or is it from your organization? If you can make it become from a person in your organization, that can be a lot more effective. If from email address is that person’s email or something that looks like that person’s email address, as opposed to [email protected] or something like that, that then becomes something where people say, “This is too me.”

Working in the language in the subject line that creates a sense of mystery anchors everything in you. Try to work language into your subject lines that say, “This is for you.” If there’s a way to tie something to date, even if it’s something like, “I have something for you to consider,” that taps into a sense of mystery. It taps into a sense of individuality and personal approach that most emails from organizations don’t. It also creates something timely, so it feels like it was sent from a single person to a single person. Even doing that can increase your email’s open rates and click rates.

Once you get into the body, continue that and try to tie in some emotion and try to do that value proposition that explains to people or helps people have an emotional reaction to and an emotional connection with your organization as opposed to being very dry and asking for specific things. Those are some email tricks that we’ve certainly seen produce some good results.

In terms of these specialized emails, would you suggest doing mail merges or something where we can start with their name and then have their name interlaced throughout the messages that we want to send them?

As long as it feels authentic. One of the things that I would say is to create an email. You can do a mail merge. You can bring in their name on occasion, then read it. Have a test sent to you with your name in there and read it. If it feels too salesy or I’m using your name too much, strip out a couple of them. The litmus test here is when you read that email, does it feel like it came from a person, or does it feel like it came from a mail bot? If it feels like a person, you’re making strides towards improving those. You’ll see them connect a lot more effectively and create the opportunity you’re trying to create with engagement.

We can do a lot more with our emails that would help us seem more human to our audiences. While we’re on the topic of engagement, we had another question about the volunteering aspect of our organization since we’re a nonprofit. There has been trouble in the middle, maybe if there’s a lull between events or something like that, where we might have trouble engaging volunteers or having them be active. Do you have any suggestions on how to keep them interested in our work or have even more volunteers be able to come into our organization?

This is what we would call the inspire phase of the engagement. You’ve got somebody to take action. You’ve got them to raise their hand and say, “I want to do something with this organization,” but maybe you don’t have something for them to do right away. Layering in at least a one-to-one feel, if not actual one-to-one conversations with that audience, can keep them super engaged. What you can do is ask them questions, send them surveys, and keep them feeling like they understand where things are going with your organization and where they are now. Make sure that you are in contact with them on a regular basis. If you got me to raise my hand and say, “Yes, I’d like to volunteer as a mentor for kids in Cameroon,” send them a thank you for your interest and tee up what the expectation should be.

Say, “We’re trying to get things rolling here in the next three months. We’re going to keep you apprised of what’s going on in the meantime,” and give them a way to reach out to you if they have any questions or ideas. Maybe leverage that relationship to ask them if they know anybody else who might be interested. Maybe ask them survey questions about, “Which country would you like for us to go in into next?”

Send them information about the volunteer opportunity they signed up for in terms of, “This is what this is going to look like and what we’re hoping to achieve with this volunteer spot.” Keep in touch. It’s like having a friend that maybe you live in different states and don’t get to see each other very much. Reach out and be willing to listen and give in terms of value back to that relationship.

On the topic of keeping in touch and keeping them engaged, what do you think about biweekly or monthly video calls with volunteers from a specific department?

That would be amazing. It’s like the idea that we talked about briefly in terms of the podcast if you have that bandwidth to do that or have your volunteer team do that. Record that and see what stuff comes out of it because you’ll find any conversation you have is an opportunity for you to learn. It’s an opportunity for the person you’re having a conversation with to learn. If it’s a thoughtful, engaging, authentic conversation, something great usually comes out of it.

I see the potential with that, but there’s one of the problems we have faced in the past, and it’s something that we need to overcome. I have a question about how we’re going to overcome that. Since a lot of our volunteers are high school students or middle school students, I’ve noticed a lot of them do have the attitude that it’s something that they’re checking off on a list of extracurriculars or something like that.

It might seem like a chore, even possibly to them, to have biweekly or monthly video calls, which is not the direction we’re trying to go. We’re trying to create meaningful relationships with our volunteers and incentivize them to carry out their work. Do you have any ideas on how to shift the tone of our relationship with our volunteers or a certain volunteers from being something of a chore to being like a meaningful relationship that they want to engage in?

I do have a couple of ideas. One idea is to vet your volunteers a little bit more. Instead of letting anyone and everyone who checks the volunteer box become a volunteer, have some process, interview, or tasks that are required to become a volunteer. What you’re doing is you’re lifting up the idea of what a volunteer is to the organization and what the volunteer should expect out of their engagement as well as what the organization should expect out of the engagement. Make sure that you create some process by which people go through a series of questions or steps or submit something. Maybe make it a little bit of a roadblock.

 

RTNP 39 | Culture Of Philanthropy
Culture Of Philanthropy: Any conversation that you have is an opportunity for you to learn.

 

Certainly, you’ll reduce the number of volunteers, but your volunteer quality will go up. That group will also be able to make recommendations or introductions to other volunteers that would be of similar quality and have a similar mission in terms of wanting to make the world a better place and not only check a box to get into college.

Vetting them is a good idea. The number of volunteers is also a point of contention, but there has to be a balancing factor between the quality of volunteers and the number of volunteers. That’s something that we’re going to look into and incorporate into how we recruit our volunteers.

It’s a matter of you having 10 great people versus 100 people who weren’t well aligned. One of the things with running a business in an organization like yours is a business, but one of the things to consider is the overall culture. If the volunteer experience for whatever reason, particularly if there are some volunteers that aren’t pulling their weight or are weighing things down, those can have a negative effect on the great volunteers that you have.

It’s building and creating an organizational culture that is inclusive and passionate and comes back down to the idea of core values in terms of what you’re trying to achieve. Let’s consider volunteers as hires. Make sure that when you bring people on, you’re hiring these people who are going to be a positive influence on the overall culture of the organization and lift the whole thing up.

We need to do that in the future because some of our volunteers don’t put in much effort, or they’re only part of the club to be part of the club. I was wondering if you had any advice on specifically trying to filter up these people that we have or trying to ensure that these people are more active?

It’s a little hard to ask people to do things sometimes when they’re doing it for free. If you position it in terms of the impact and the positive benefit you’re trying to bring to the world and want everybody to be on board and enthusiastic, there are some minimum requirements to be a volunteer or to stay at a certain level of volunteer.

Maybe you could have different levels, so people could decide where they wanted to land. They can be a supporter. Supporters are people who get regular emails. They get access to webinars when those happen, and in return, you would love for them to share things about the Apollo Foundation on their social media. It’s a low lift. They get something out of it. You get something out of it, but it’s not a super heavy lift. There’s the next level. Maybe those people are crew volunteers that you can come up with whatever name you have for them.

They might work within a certain department. The expectation might be that they could get a letter of participation from the organization or log volunteer hours and then come up with what those expectations are. You could have crew chiefs, and those people would have a different set of expectations and would get a different set of value out of it.

It’s trying to figure out how to create a structure within the organization that allows people to engage at the level they’re comfortable with. It allows you to create incentives, to boost people up to different levels if they’re doing good work. If you have someone who’s on a crew and they’re killing it, you can say, “We would love for you to be a crew chief. Would you be interested in that?” That way, there are ways to escalate.

To preface, as Rian said before, I know you mentioned departments. We have three major departments the grants in the PR, fundraising, and operations. Operations is helping with the initiatives and making curricula for the projects. Within those departments, we have department guidelines. We have guidelines for each role that people are able to go into. These roles are not leveled based, but as you said, there should be levels. There should be a social media volunteer who is a supporter. It goes all the way up to someone like a department chief. Could you explain more about what the crew chief would do exactly? I was confused on that part.

I’m not familiar with your organization in terms of the ins and outs but what I was envisioning was that there could be a supporter level. It’s a very low-value exchange. They may share some stuff with their networks. They may talk nicely about you guys and get some supporter recognition. If they want to be a volunteer, they could come on. Let’s say they are a volunteer in the PR realm. Maybe to be a volunteer, there’s a requirement of the minimum number of social media posts done every month, or you set minimums.

A chief would be somebody who would be helping to manage those volunteers. That allows you and the core group of guys here who have created the foundation to stay focused on that high-level stuff that brings a lot of value to the organization. It lets you have somebody more in charge of that day-to-day operations stuff that keeps the engine running. They’re putting fuel in the tank, and you’re building the car.

Rian went on to talk to this, but we don’t have roles. What you’re saying is essentially have roles in order for them to stay engaged in stuff and give them some more responsibilities rather than spoonfeeding.

What I’m hearing is that you have a problem with some that maybe aren’t pulling their weight. What that can do is create a poll on the volunteers who are doing great work. If they’re out there trying to get Susie to engage and Susie’s not doing what she’s supposed to be doing, and Laura is out there working her tail off to try and promote the organization, and there’s that visibility into that, then Laura might start to think, “Why am I working so hard on this when someone else isn’t?” One of the things that are a harsh reality but are part of the business world is not everyone’s a great fit. The saying that you hear a lot is, hire slow and fire fast. Sometimes there’s nothing more destructive than a bad apple in the mix.

If you take your time hiring and vetting your volunteer base or even your sponsors, make sure that your sponsors are aligned with your mission. Take that time to vet people and ensure that you’re bringing on the people who are the right fit. If you discover that they’re not the right fit, figure out how to remove them from that bushel as quickly as possible. Hire slow and fire fast is something that is a challenge. It’s no fun. That HR piece is always interesting, but that’s something that if you could take to heart, it will be good for your org.

Would it be efficient to create an HR department in that case?

 

RTNP 39 | Culture Of Philanthropy
Culture Of Philanthropy: Make sure your sponsors are aligned with your mission. If you discover that they are not the right fit, figure out how to remove them as quickly as possible.

 

Eventually, yes. Now, that’s probably a little bit of overkill. It could be housed within ops, but when you get big enough that you’re dealing with needing to bring people on the team, either here in the states or internationally, that HR department is something that you’ll find almost necessary.

The last thing we had in terms of volunteers was how to push out assignments. If not assignments, have them do stuff in their department or role.

Setting expectations early is the first thing I would do in terms of making sure that people understand what they’re volunteering for and setting those expectations. Figure out what the goals are for each of the departments that you’re getting volunteers to be part of. Part of this is that you attend video calls once a month or once every two weeks.

We certainly need you to be there as often as possible with the idea that you can’t miss more than 2 or 6-month periods. It’s teeing up what your needs are for each of those departments and what the goals are so that you can have something to drive toward. It’s hard to steer a ship if you don’t know where you’re going. Tee up where you’re trying to go, and that will do a lot to get things going in the right direction. I appreciate you guys bearing with some of the technical challenges we had there at the start. How can people find out more about the Apollo Foundation? What’s the best place for them to go?

Our website is ApolloFDN.org.

Once you search for anything related to volunteering, you will get a link to our website. On our website, you can learn quite a lot about Apollo Foundation, our volunteers, partners, and chapters, if anyone would be interested in starting a chapter.

Collectively, it would be [email protected].

I like to end all of my shows with the idea of action. I love having these conversations and hope that you have gotten a lot out of this and have things that you can act upon. If you were to have our audience who’s reading take any action to make the world a better place after reading, what would you have them do? I’ll let you go in any order that you feel like you’d like to answer.

This is very abstract in general, but the biggest thing I would say is to do it. Don’t let something hold you back or something stops you from doing what you think is right. Being gracious in that way helps out in ways that a lot of people don’t know something that I’ve discovered.

If I had to give my two cents on the matter, it would be to check in on the people close to you and the people that you care about. Trust me, they’ll appreciate it a lot more than you think.

If I had to say anything, it would be to go for whatever you’re passionate about. For example, we were all from India, and we saw all this poverty and inability to access education. We thought that we could truly make a change, and here we are now, starting this up. Don’t be afraid to start it up and do something for the world.

My advice would be that there are always going to be 1,000 reasons why you shouldn’t do something, but you should be the one reason why you start something. Be the reason that those 1,000 reasons don’t exist anymore.

Essentially, if you have any problem in your community, you should be the first person to go ahead and try to fix that problem instead of waiting for someone else to fix it. Not only your community and the world, perhaps. That’s pretty much it, generally.

I love those action items. I appreciate you being on this show and encourage you to continue to go out there and crush it and make the world a better place. I’m inspired to hear your story and look forward to hearing more about how you guys are making the world a better place. Thanks for being on the show.

Thank you so much for having us.

 

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About Apollo Foundation

RTNP 39 | Culture Of PhilanthropyApollo Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable non-profit organization founded by passionate students and supported by various well-achieved Outreach Directors that work to provide better and more enhanced education to impoverished students around the world. We do so through our dedicated volunteers, exceptional international chapters, compassionate sponsors/partners, and our ambitious management team.