Profits or revenue… What’s your organization’s focus?
If you can’t answer that question, perhaps you’ll enjoy this week’s episode of Relish This.
I had a great, all-encompassing conversation with Sherry Manning, the US Executive Director of Global Seed Savers. They are a really cool organization that helps farmers stockpile and diversify their seed stock to ensure farming can continue year after year.
Most of their work is based in the Philippines, and Sherry manages their US branch – focused on engagement and building awareness of the great work that they do.
Here’s the point: Sherry and her team have laid a lot of groundwork to create a healthy foundation based on a strong Values, Vision, and Mission. They also have a strong handle on the idea of relationship-first marketing and strengthening engagements by creating opportunities to have conversations.
Our discussion primarily focused on two main ideas:
- How organizations can further their missions by focusing on running their nonprofits like businesses – really keeping an eye on profits by consistently assessing costs and net revenues when looking at the actual success rates of their ventures.
- How to analyze data to build personas – target audiences – to focus your efforts and do more of what’s working.
If you’ve been running your own organization without a firm grasp of these concepts, you’re sure to like this episode.
Global Seed Savers https://globalseedsavers.org/
Ask: Step away from your computer, go outside and be still, and observe what you see in nature. Look for a new life.
Listen to the podcast here:
How To Run Your Organization Like A For-Profit With Sherry Manning From Global Seed Savers
My guest is Sherry Manning, the Executive Director of Global Seed Savers, a cool organization that helps farmers save out a certain amount of their seeds to plant again the following year. They do most of their work in the Philippines and have a Philippines unit as well that does a lot of great work over there. They’re doing some cool stuff throughout the engagement life cycle.
We had a cool conversation. Two things that came out of it. The first was being able to help focus your organization on profits. Even though we are nonprofits, when we run events and things of that nature, we do need to be focused on the costs versus the net revenue that’s generated from those endeavors. The other thing that we talked quite a bit about was persona development and understanding how to take what’s working, develop a persona around that, and then do more of what’s working. It was a fun episode. You’re going to enjoy it. There are lots of fun things to talk about. Here we go.
Sherry, how are you doing?
I am good, Stu. How are you doing?
I am doing well. Tell me a little bit about what you have going on at the Global Seed Savers Organization.
Global Seed Savers is an international nonprofit organization. We’re based here in Denver, Colorado, out of the Posner Center for International Development, but our primary operations are on the ground in the Philippines. We work with smallholder farmers and farming communities. They’re helping restore the traditional practice of saving seeds and restoring local food systems. I’m happy to dive into more details, but we’re all about restoring food and seed sovereignty and working from the grassroots up to ensure communities have the local resources they need to sustain themselves.
There are some interesting challenges with that here in the states. Is that why it’s a Philippines-based organization or do you have touchpoints here in the States side as well?
We do have some domestic partnerships here in the United States. We work with an organization called the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance, which does a lot of seed education and training throughout the Rocky Mountain West, but my work in the Philippines and the reason that’s where we’re based started years ago. I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer there, back when you didn’t get to pick where you go. I like to say that the Philippines chose me. It’s my time there as a volunteer learning, listening and living with my host family at the time that spurred the creation of what’s now Global Seed Savers.
You work with farmers there in the Philippines to help them get their current crop harvested and then save for future crops. Is that part of your program?
We come in with an education program. We do a series of different pieces of training. Our core curriculum is a program called Seed School, where we’re teaching and facilitating. By we, I mean our farmers and staff in the Philippines are training other community members in this historic practice of saving seeds. For your readers who don’t know gardening or seeds, how we got our past food diversity is by saving seeds.
Crops are meant to be planted and then a portion of them saved and grown to seed and then replanted again. In many years, as multinational chemical corporations have taken control of our food systems, the practice and the art of saving seeds are being lost, particularly in growing populations like the Philippines. We’re coming in and working side-by-side with the community to help restore those traditions. We do our technical training program and then, depending on the needs of the community, we’ll work with those farmers to do seed trials where they’re in the field, dedicating a portion of their land for seed production and then helping them establish seed libraries in those communities.
This is fueling my curiosity here but are individual farmers doing the seed storage themselves or are there repositories? How does that work?
We do a little bit of both. A big part of what we encourage is helping the on-farm seed storage because that’s a hugely important piece of it and then we’re also helping communities establish local seed libraries. These are not Svalbard Seed Vault up in Norway. These are small cabinets in proper storage containers where all of our partner communities bring a portion of their seeds so that the rest of the community and other farmers can share and exchange those seeds as well.
There are a lot of diversifications that go on with the mixing of seed stocks.
The thing that you want is diversity. We know that in many aspects of our world but in particular in agriculture, you want diversity. You don’t want mono-crop. You’re way more prone to disease to pass to the impacts of the pandemic and climate change unless you have diversity. It’s a simple solution that we’ve overcomplicated in our modern world. I always like to say that in the sector, people like to talk a lot about innovation and doing the next big thing in the nonprofit world. We take a lot of pride in that we’re helping return and restore old traditions because that’s what works.
It’s getting back to basics and leaning back on those things that have been proven to work for generations. In terms of your organization, where do you feel like you land in terms of your maturity in building awareness and bringing donors? Do you work with volunteers?
We’re at a pretty exciting tipping point in our life cycle. We are primed, ready and have moved from a scrappy startup to a more established adolescent nonprofit over the last few years. We do have two full-time paid staff members in the Philippines, Filipinos that run our programs and operations on the ground. I’m the only US staff member. We’re getting ready to grow. We’re planning to bring on two new team members in the Philippines. We do have volunteers here and there in terms of helping with events and different things here in the US, but the core of our people that make the work happen are on the ground in the Philippines.
In the nonprofit world, people like to talk a lot about innovation and doing the next big thing.
What’s fueling that ability to grow the staff and expand your mission?
It’s many things. Over the years, we have honed in on exactly what our value add in this big ecosystem of sustainable ag, regenerative ag or whatever you want to call it. There are a lot of different words floating around the world. In particular, the pandemic has reawakened the need for these local systems. In a country like the Philippines, that’s only been even more exacerbated with the other challenges that were already existing there. It’s a land of 7,000 islands. Food supply chains were cut off very quickly. They already had densely populated urban areas that struggled with food insecurity and the pandemic only exacerbated that.
Communities are saying, “We need to go back to these local systems. We’re being cut off from each other and the world. We want to engage and do this ourselves.” We were primed and ready for the pandemic. We already had some momentum. We’d run programs in different regions of the country. We had our two staff members on the ground already and we’ve been able to respond to that. We’re grateful for all of our supporters and donors. We’re continuing to build on that, but the timing all came together positively.
It’s great that you were primed and ready for that. There are a lot of organizations out there who had the knowledge and the capability to bring valuable assets, information or assistance to these areas that were hit hard in the last few years, but they weren’t able to take action on that based upon their revenue streams or other mechanisms that they couldn’t put in play-based upon cashflow. It’s great to hear that you were able to pounce on that opportunity.
I’m continuing to work on not having a scarcity mentality. Being the founder from the bottom up, it’s amazing to sit back and see where we are, but one of the benefits that we were placed as an organization is we were pretty small and lean as it was. A lot of nonprofits and colleagues at the Posner Center had to take a hard look at their budget when COVID first hit and make some hard decisions, but we’ve been pretty lean from the get-go. We were able to ride it out.
We had to put a pause on a lot of direct programming in the field because of travel restrictions, but we didn’t have a lot of wiggle room in the budget in the first place, so it put us in a position of being able to dig in and maintain all of our staff. That’s something I’m proud of. We were able to keep all of our team and keep paying them. The pandemic is a very different situation in the Philippines. We’re coming out of some of this and responding to the growing needs.
What are some of the things that are on your growth agenda in terms of helping to be able to expand that mission or reach more people to help them with not only teeing up their ability to handle these kinds of challenges in the future but to expand that mission?
We’re in early conversations about some of these kinds of program model changes. Global Seed Savers and Global Seed Savers Philippines want to be the hub and the center point that’s building a coalition of all of these community partners, farmers and other nonprofits that want to engage in this work. We’re excited about building out that membership model.
A farmer’s organization, local government unit, and other organization that wants to partner with us can become a Global Seed Savers Philippines member. They’ll pay into that and then with that, they’ll get you a menu of our options. They’ll get access to online seed schools and gatherings of other members of the community to learn from them. As the demand for what we’re providing is growing, we want to continue to think about how to do it smarter, not harder and have Global Seed Savers be the center point of making all of these connections for these communities doing this work.
What outreach are you doing to explain that new positioning and get people on board?
We’re in the internal conversations about that, but we have several partners that we’re constantly in communication and working with. We’re building out that internal membership model at the moment but almost every day, myself or my colleague in the Philippines, our Executive Director there, gets requests and emails from a school who wants local seeds for their school garden and from a farmer’s organization that wants access to our seed school programs. We want to be able to not just respond to those kinds of in a one-off way but say, “We’d love for you to engage. Here’s how to do it formally.”
The other thing that we’ve seen with the pandemic is the rise of everyone in the Philippines being more engaged with farming, be that urban folk or rural communities. Our hits on social media and social presence have increased in the Philippines, which is super exciting. We’re getting ready to bring on a local marketing and communication staff member to run those things for us to make sure that the voice of the audience is being reached. We have our donor audience here, but we’re having that Philippine voice share the perspective of our work and what we’re doing.
What’s fortunate is that the cost associated with bringing someone on and over in the Philippines is a lot lower than over here. You can get some great people in that area for a lot less money than here domestically. The authenticity piece is fantastic to hear as well. It sounds like you don’t have what we would call an attraction problem. You have a steady influx of inquiries and people who are engaging with your brand. Moving on to that connect phase, it sounds like you’re collecting email addresses and building a community. Is that accurate? Are you doing things with all of these touchpoints that you have?
Yes. We have a newsletter list and our growing social feed. We’re keeping a running tally of all these things. Honestly, it’s an abundance of desire at the moment. We want to position ourselves and ensure that we are not overtaxing our small but mighty team in responding to these needs. We’re spending the next month or so doing a lot of this internal work, bringing on more team members and folks and then we’re going to be able to hit the ground running and continue to respond to the needs.
Newsletters are a great part of any organization’s general outreach. One of the things that we’ve seen starting to work well for our clients and us as an organization, my real job as a cofounder of a digital marketing agency and what we have started doing is paring those emails down to one specific piece of information or value-driving component as opposed to throwing a bunch of stuff out there for people to choose their adventure.
When people send out newsletters, they tend to have the 3 latest blog posts, the other thing that we did, this event that went well, some other thing and 2 or 3 calls to action. People can get a little lost in that messaging. It also feels impersonal because people can spot a newsletter 3,000 miles away from where there’s an opportunity with your email list. People on that list have raised their hand, so they’ve taken an action to get on that list.
Providing more frequent and specific elements or items of value to that list can be effective because it does feel so personal. If you strip out all that design, choose your adventure messaging and deliver a single piece of valuable material, insight or information that feels like it could have been written to a specific person, you would see how you start to get better engagement because people feel like they’re being talked to as a person and not just a list.
Thanks for sharing that tidbit and knowledge with us. We’re on a bit of a pause from some of our communications in that way because we’re rebuilding and re-envisioning how we want to go about sharing those messages, but I love that you shared that. Something we did a better job was we peppered a monthly newsletter and every other month was a blog. It was more of a personal story from one of our staff members or getting permission from one of our farmers to share one of their stories. I agree with you. It’s that personal connection. We’ve all adjusted to this digital connection, but we still need that human or personal connection. We need good stories in the world. I love that tip. I’ll make a note of that and share that with our new marketing person when we bring her on.
There’s a real reckoning happening in the world of philanthropy right now. And it’s very positive.
One of the things that we’ve seen work well is to take those blog posts. Instead of a synopsis of three posts in a newsletter, go ahead and send each of those posts out individually. Have a greeting that says, “Hey, Stu,” and then go right into the blog post. I could have gotten that if I’d gone to the site, but you have engaged this captive audience that they’ve asked to correspond with, so they’re more likely to see that.
Have a single call to action if there even is one. I would mix things up and have it that you’re not always asking people for donations or action but allowing them to engage with your organization in a variety of different ways. It can be effective. In terms of your social media, how frequently is it? What’s your approach to social?
It’s not like we’ve found our unicorn, but I’m very excited that we’re bringing on a specifically dedicated team member to help run these aspects of our work because I do think we’ve reached that stage as an organization where we need a committed team member that’s managing this. We mainly have a presence on Facebook and Instagram. We do have a Twitter account, but we don’t post there a whole lot.
We post 3 to 4 times a week and it’s a range. We’re in the process of thinking through more of a schedule and how are we tying that into our bigger communications strategy. A lot of what we’ve started to do as more and more of our partners in the Philippines are becoming more active on social is sharing a lot of content of like-minded organizations.
We’ve held seed schools with some wonderful partners with whom we’ve worked in their communities and they’re starting to build their social presence. We always like to post their stories and share their articles. Sharing stories of the field, if we have a training that’s happened, we’ll post about that. We’ll post articles of interest, but I’ve been having fun as someone that is still the one posting things. I’m very excited to pass that off.
It’s been super fun to do to see more and more of our partners start to share content and develop their social platforms. In this spirit of us as Global Seed Savers wanting to be the coalition builder, we don’t need to spend the time making all the content. We can share quality content with our friends. That’s a great way to spread the network and share the same messaging.
I love that you’ve figured that out. I’m not the only person that’s come up with this idea. It would be disingenuous of me to claim ownership of this, but it’s this idea of being a maven. You don’t have to create all of the thought leadership. You just have to know how to access it. People will remember that and that you helped them get some valuable information. It doesn’t have to be always something that you sit down and spend twelve weeks researching, writing and delivering.
It’s knowing that something is important, being able to share that and maybe adding your $0.2 of why you think it’s important to provide validation. We don’t always have to be in that content creation mode. We can be in that content distribution mode, particularly if we are adding a little bit of flavor to it.
That ties in with our model. We as an organization want to be able to come in and help provide, support and encourage, but our long-term vision is that the communities where we establish these seed libraries and where we do these training are locally-led. With the farmers in that community or whatever the structure is, we come in, bring some value add and then we’re able to walk away. That’s in the same spirit when you talk about sharing quality content. Don’t think that you’re the only one that can create good thoughts. There’s a lot of good thought out there. It’s a better opportunity to share that and get that cross-pollination happening with other like-minded organizations.
It’s a little bit of a blend between the inspire and bond phases, but not everyone will be ready to take action on day one. Providing them valuable information that feels genuine and comes from this position of altruism and the idea that you want to help, people pick up on that. When they are ready to take action and move into that engagement cycle, you’ll be top of mind.
I heard that you’re doing a lot of back and forth in social as well, where you’re reaching out to other organizations and responding to people. We see a lot of people miss with social media because they tend to use it as this soapbox as opposed to being a relationship builder. I heard that you’re out engaging with other organizations and answering people who post to your platform as well.
As we’re bringing on more team members to work with this process, we’re excited to maybe even initiate some of our back and forth communication with those audiences. How can we send a poll? Surveys are very archaic and rooted in all sorts of bad structures, but how can we help create that for our folks as well? We’re excited to be able to bring on more team members to help inspire and focus on that process.
A lot of times, it’s asking questions and listening for the answers that you get. Something that tends to be missing from social media at times is that people feel like they’re always the expert. It’s a matter of starting a conversation and building that relationship through back-and-forth interactions. What is your donor structure? Is it typically coming from state-side donations or is there a good donor base in the Philippines as well?
We’re starting to grow a donor base locally. A big strategic initiative for us in the Philippines is growing that local donor base and honing in on our programmatic revenue streams. We’re still 90% plus funded here in the West. We’re still primarily individual donor-funded. We do have a grants portfolio that’s growing, but grants are a tricky world. We’re grateful for all of our grant funders but also, want to move into this more consistent long-term multi-year funding. We secured our first-ever multi-year individual donor gift.
It’s a game-changer for us and a transformational gift over the next years, which is amazing. We’re very grateful to that donor. For us, it’s a sign that the time that we’ve put into relationships is leading to the right thing. We hope that that’s going to turn into more of those types of relationships to help complement the on-the-ground revenue generation and fundraising that’s starting to happen.
That’s a great topic of conversation, attempting to move people from one-time donations to more predictable commitments over some time, even if those are smaller individual donations. For example, getting a bunch of people on a $10 a month. A lot of times, it’s an easier sell than trying to get somebody to give $120. Attempting to escalate that engagement can be super effective for your organization because it builds predictability.
It creates that budgetable against cashflow that we’re all so in need of. In the nonprofit space, the big time of year tends to be at the end of the year during Thanksgiving and holiday season giving as well as people trying to fulfill an end-of-year commitment that they’ve made and they waited to the last minute. That is not going to go away.
Even during those times, attempting to get people to commit to longer-term month-over-month regular donations, getting that transition can be a game-changer for a nonprofit. When you have people who’ve raised their hands and someone who said, “Yes, put me on your email list,” that’s a hand raised. Somebody who said, “I’d like to give to your organization,” that’s a little bit higher hand raised. If you think of ways to escalate that engagement to get them to get used to donating monthly, for example, then you can go back to those donors on a fairly regular basis and ask for a little bit more commitment every month. It’s a way to escalate that.
It’s been super fun to see more and more of our partners start to share content and develop their social platforms.
The other piece that a lot of nonprofits may discount or miss is this idea of getting someone to escalate from an individual donor to a corporate donor. Letting people know that you’re open to corporate partnership arrangements or corporate donorship agreements, a lot of corporations are out there trying to do more good in the world.
We have B corp and everybody else forming. A lot of these organizations, particularly if they’re in your space are looking to do a little bit more to give back. It’s a good opportunity to take an individual donor and put in their mind that they could go their place of business or their company if they’re in a position to make those decisions and have that company come on as a corporate sponsor.
You shared a lot of potential ways to go about it. Those of us on the ground, making those things happen, it isn’t quite that simple, but it’s all about relationships. For example, this very generous individual donor that’s given us this transformational gift over the next years, I’ve spent a lot of time cultivating that relationship. There’s a good connection point. This person is very committed to our work and cares deeply about the mission, but it takes time.
It takes eighteen months to cultivate a new donor in the fundraising world, which is a scary time crunch when you’re operating in our current realities, but it is about putting in that time and those relationships. That is hard. It takes a lot of patience, but we’re sitting in this place of tremendous gratitude and excitement combined with this transformational gift. There’s also this continued groundswell for the work on the ground. We’re hoping we can marry those two.
We’ve spent a lot of time building that base, small donors and monthly donors. We’d love to still have more monthly donors if anyone who’s inspired and wants to dive in that way, but the tipping point that we’re at or at least I see with our us donors, is we’re going to want to maintain those folks, but now that we’ve received this type of multi-year very substantial commitment, that’s where we can head. That will hopefully be a door to more folks like that.
We’re going to maintain our base and frankly, COVID has required a lot of small nonprofits to dig into that base. What are the relationships that you’re going to maintain during a pandemic? It’s people that already know and love you. That’s what we’ve had to do in addition to be not the place programmatically where some grant funding has also opened up. It’s a timing thing. Every year is different, but we’re rolling into this quarter feeling a little bit of breath because we have some of this money in the bank to give us the time to do this internal work so that we can respond when we’re ready.
It takes the pressure off when you have that predictability and that understanding that you’re funded for at least a while. It lets you make different decisions. One of the things that’s interesting and endemic or baked into the nonprofit world is this challenge where when you’re asking for donations, you have to demonstrate and state your value proposition strongly.
I love your site because you and your team have done some of the hard work establishing your values, vision, and mission. I should have taken a peek at your donation page as well. One of the things that’s interesting about the nonprofit spaces is that there’s constant friction as people move up this mountain of engagement. In the for-profit world, there’s more gravity to it where people can get plopped in the top, you nurture them a little bit and then they come out the bottom and take the action that you want them to take, like buying something.
In the nonprofit world, there’s this constant pressure that people have to overcome this gravity that they’re fighting against as they move up this engagement ladder to decide on whether or not to engage with your organization and establish this idea of why. “Why should people give to your organization instead of another organization that might have a similar goal or not give at all?”
There’s this extra tension in there. It’s cool to see that you have done some of that hard work establishing that values, vision and mission because that’s the foundation of that value proposition. It’s that story that you can relate to that convinces people why they should give to you instead of giving to someone else or not at all.
On a personal note, this is what I read late at night when I can’t go to sleep. There’s a real reckoning happening in the world of philanthropy and it’s very positive. How organizations engage with their donors and maybe even more importantly, donors engage with organizations is going to continue to shift and change and that needs to happen.
To me, that all goes back to relationships. This is about building rapport with people, telling a true, authentic story, and building trust. The problem with so much of our institutional funding is that it denies the trust relationship. I’m not saying nonprofits shouldn’t have to prove or demonstrate impact, but there are lots of ways to show impact. Who’s defining what that impact is? Is it the donor or the actual people on the ground living the work?
It’s something that we’re excited about and that we as an organization have thought about for a long time but hence why the local leadership, the local revenue support, the local dynamic of what we do is so essential because that is what’s going to propel the work forward. For us, you think about this in our sector. There’s a real valid ethical debate in the seed saving the world around the world, here and the Philippines elsewhere, of the ethics of the commodification of something as regenerative as seeds.
Those are conversations that we have in our partner communities. We’re excited to see more and more farmers growing seed and potentially sell that seed, but if there is a real belief that seeds should not be commodified and be freely shared, let’s do that because that’s the long game. A short-term sale may not lead to the long-term regenerative process that seed saving is meant to bring. This is like not telling you a specific way that we do this, but it’s sharing that these are the conversations that we’re continuing to evolve and have because that model of relying on the commodification of services takes away the dignity of the partners of the work itself sometimes.
I love that you keep coming back to this idea of relationships because, in our view, marketing is all relationship building, creating a sense of comfort and trust and building that trust over time that encourages people to take action. Whether that action is to call their congressperson, donate, volunteer or do something else, it’s all built on that trust that comes over time. I love that you’re using that language. It’s fantastic to know that you’ve figured that out yourself.
Some of that’s the nature of how we started and the work that we do. What brings humans together more than food? In theory, the great connector, even if you don’t have an abundance of it, hopefully, people are sitting down and sharing some food. By the pure nature of our mission, it’s about relationships.
It’s great to see it tied back to that mission. It makes it an easier conversation to have. If it’s baked into the whole ethos of the organization, then it’s a natural conversation. It feels legitimate and authentic because it is. I did take a peek at your donation page. If you have access to that, there are a couple of things that you could probably modify on that page to make things run a little more smoothly. If you’re interested, I can share a couple of ideas with you.
We’re bringing on some new marketing comms people and planning a website overhaul, so we’d love any suggestions.
The problem with so much of our institutional funding is that it completely denies the trust relationship.
Having a dedicated team geared towards looking at this stuff every day, running A/B tests and things of that nature is where I would recommend you go with this. One of the things that I like about this page is that you’ve focused the focus on the action. There’s no way to click off to go do anything else.
Popsy is a site that we use.
They’ve stripped out all the navigation, which is important. You could probably go even further with that. There’s some stuff in the footer that you could probably get rid of to keep things focused. One thing that is not here is continuing that value proposition conversation. It’s worth exploring ways to have more messaging here that reinforces the action you’re trying to get people to take.
That sounds a little counter-productive because we’ve all been hammered in the marketing world for the last years that you want to reduce the number of clicks and any distractions at all, but one of the things that we found is that for a lot of organizations, having a reinforcement of that value proposition on the donation page can be super effective.
That’s great feedback for the main donation page. We do throughout the year some different annual like crowdfunding peer-to-peer campaigns and those pages have had a little bit more of that, but that’s a good tip. This website needs a bit of an overhaul. I’m not even talking about design. I’m talking about updating content, ensuring that it reflects the evolution of where we’re at as an organization.
That’s why I laugh about under construction because you don’t see under construction pages much anymore, but back in the day, that was a thing that you would see all the time. It’s like, “Every webpage is under construction.” They should all be constantly tweaked, massaged and monitored. If you can do A/B testing on stuff, you’ll better understand what’s working and what resonates with people. The fact that you have this in the back of your mind as something important to tackle is great.
We all like to think that we’re all unicorns here in the nonprofit sector. We’re grateful to have been able to identify some new excitement and enthusiasm in the team, but we have to temper expectations too. We like to call ourselves seed unicorns.
What are the motivations of your donors here in the states? What are they hoping to accomplish by engaging with you and helping you fulfill your mission through their donations?
I liked the way that you phrased that question. It makes me want to ask them all of that, which I feel like we do. The biggest motivation is that people feel inspired to support the people feeding the planet. The center point that we connect people on is something very fundamental, which is our sustenance. Our donors connect with that. I’m very grateful that over the years, so many of my friends and family have become part of the family as well. These are people that maybe not necessarily ever knew about the Philippines, but through those personal connections, have grown to love the people and the work.
There’s another piece to our work and that’s about justice and painting the picture of, “What the multinational biochemical corporations are doing to the world is disruptive. We’re presenting a very authentic grassroots alternative. People respond to that.” A lot of friends of mine are in the network, the very values-aligned people. We have a lot of other farmers, other seed savers and people that do this work here domestically that are like, “I feel in solidarity with the farmers in the Philippines.” It’s connecting on all those valuable points.
You hit the nail on the head when you said that you might want to ask those questions. The more insight and knowledge that you can gather around people’s motivations for engaging with your organization, the more you can have a good understanding of the kinds of materials that you might want to put out there. You attract more of the same people and the kinds of materials you might want to put out there to escalate the engagement of those involved.
Getting those demographics and psychographics can help you build personas of these ideal donors, influencers or even beneficiaries. You have a great understanding of when someone shows up whether or not they are the “right person.” It helps with your ability to message those groups and make good decisions in terms of whether or not this is someone that you want to hop on immediately in terms of engagement or if they might need a little bit more nurturing. It helps streamline all of that. At the end of the day, that ends up saving you time and money in terms of your outreach. Have you done any of those types of exercises in the past?
We have here and there. We host a big annual event. It was a Filipino brunch last 2020. It was virtual, which was great because more and more of our Philippine community could join. Something we always ask is, “How did you hear about us?” That event has grown and people look forward to it every year in our network here. We’ve evolved to it because people can buy tables, so those consistent guests always bring new friends each year, which is super exciting. We were able to make the digital pivot, which was nice. It didn’t bring in as much revenue as we had hoped, but it was a very successful event regardless.
You don’t raise as much money via virtual as you do in person for where we’re at. It’s the mode that we’re in, but it’s a good question. We’re doing a lot of board development. The groundswell of the work is taking off on the ground and that’s an even better question to ask people on the ground in the Philippines.
If we start getting new hits or partners saying, “We’d love to do seed school,” we’ll ask them, “Why do you want to engage with us?” That’s something we do in our partnership development anyway. We always meet, connect, build those relationships and learn if it’s a good fit, but that’s an interesting way to think about engaging with donors as well.
There are a couple of things I understand that are interesting. The first one is going to the numbers in terms of your virtual event versus in-person event. One thing that tends to happen is that people get very focused on the gross receipts and lose a little bit of track of the net receipts. Even though your gross may be down from virtual events, the costs of running a virtual event can be astronomically less expensive.
It was amazing. I’m reflecting on when I sent in the board report and we talked about it. It’s ridiculous how little money we spent for such an impactful, amazing gathering. That’s going to be interesting, at least in this part of the world, as we start to get back in person. There is something nice about being in person. For our event, it’s very tactile. We have a meal. We sat together and conversate, but we were still able to build that positive energy virtually and to your point, it costs such little money. It’s like, “Why not?”
The other thing that we’ve learned is that once you’ve run a couple of those virtual events, they become easier to pull off. That’s something to keep in the back of your mind and be thoughtful about because there’s an opportunity for us to get excited about gross revenue and lost track of margins and profit, especially in the nonprofit space. We tend to not think of profits too much because the anti of that is in our name.
Step away from your desk, go outside and be still in nature.
It has built a lot of bad cycles in our sector.
The other thing that would be interesting is you’ve mentioned this big donor a couple of times. Trying to, in a non-intrusive way, tease out some of their motivations, demographics and psychographics around their decision-making. Who they are and looking for people who are similar to that so that you can get a better understanding or have a little more targeted outreach even in the Philippines, how could you find a couple of people like that over there?
If you can get to those motivations, thoughts, feelings, ideas and figure out how to connect with more people like that, you might be able to get more of those people signed on as big sponsors and donors. Coming at it from that deconstructive mindset in terms of trying to figure it out and not think like, “This was a fluke and it’s not reproducible,” there’s an opportunity there to build on that momentum.
We’re excited to be at that point. To bring it back to the core of who we are and what we believe in, seeds teach us to be regenerative like that. We’ve already seen that happen. Regardless of a large donor or a small donor, it’s become regenerative. Someone hears and they tell their friend. It continues to grow. I love that. I’m certainly very hopeful that the security of having a partnership with this generous donor is going to lead to more people like her. The way to do that is to be strategic and dig in to do the work that you’re talking about. We’re excited to be at that phase.
I love the idea of regenerative opportunities and using that language, even if it’s internally. Getting that mindset of you’re storing seeds, reaping the rewards of that and getting people to become very engaged is what we call the inspire phase of engagement, where essentially, you’re going back to the well and asking them for additional help.
That helped doesn’t have to be financial. It can be sharing your story as a donor, as somebody who’s engaged in this community, spread the word, getting more people engaged and leveraging that list and all of those people who over the years have chosen to engage with your organization, to get them to bring two more people in. Even if it’s asking them to share something with their network, that can be incredibly fruitful.
It’s wonderful to be at the place where we can think about engagement points that aren’t just asking for a donation. We would gratefully accept any donations that people want to give, but we’re at a place in our life cycle where there are a lot of different entry points. That’s the way any of these movements are. I was having a conversation with a board member we’re recruiting and this particular person was like, “I don’t grow seeds. I get your mission. I’m Filipino. I care about it.” I was like, “There’s a lot of entry points to engage in this work. You don’t need to be an active gardener or farmer to get this and become an advocate.”
One of our mentors from Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance, Bill McDorman, teaches seed teachers and I’m one of his graduates. He always says, “Teach what you care about.” He can get up and teach all about genetics and all the technical stuff, but when I get up and talk about seeds, I tell the stories of the farmers and the injustices in our systems because that’s what gets me excited. A great way to think about how to keep donors engaged and excited is by asking them, “Why are you excited about this work? Could you tell that story?” Not like, “Give money,” but like, “I’m inspired to share about this awesome work with you.”
We touched on that in terms of having a variety of different asks, so you’re not always asking the same thing. It keeps people on their toes and gives them something unique. If the button in your email is always Donate Now, pretty soon, people stop seeing that button. I would argue that maybe you don’t need a button in your email regardless because that makes it feel impersonal, like a marketing piece.
If all you’re ever doing is asking for money, that ask will start to be less visible. You’re always keeping them on their toes like, “What are they going to ask me for this week?” It’s something interesting, new and fresh. Maybe the ask is to go plant a seed and see what happens. That might be an amazing thing to encourage people to do.
Go for a walk and look for the seeds that are all around because they’re everywhere. Once you start paying attention, they’re there. You’ll see them.
I super enjoyed my conversation with you. I love having these chats with nonprofit leaders. I’m excited about where you are going. If people want to learn more about your organization, where should they go to get information about Global Seed Savers?
We’re going to be revamping our website, but that is still a good portal. Feel free to go to GlobalSeedSavers.org. That’s a great space. It’s the same name on Facebook, Global Seed Savers, as well as on Instagram. That’s where we’re posting pictures, content and sharing articles about the work and why this movement is important.
I love having these conversations because I love talking about things, but I want to inspire action. One of the questions that I ask all of my guests at the end of the show is if you had to inspire people to take one action after reading and it could be anything from plant a tree or go look for seeds, what would that action be for people to help motivate them to get out and do something?
I would encourage everyone to step away from their computer, walk outside, be still and observe what they see. You might see some seeds or new life sprouting up. That’s what this is all about. Step away from your desk, get outside and be still in nature. That’s going to take you where you need to go.
That sounds like something I’d like to go do right after we get done.
I’m with you, Stu. I’m going to head out for my annual walk every day.
Thank you again for being on the show, Sherry. It was wonderful speaking with you. I encourage everyone to go to check out GlobalSeedSavers.org. I look forward to hearing more about how things are going.
Thanks for all your tips and advice. I enjoyed the conversation, Stu.
It’s always my pleasure. Talk to you soon.
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About Sherry Manning
Sherry’s work with Global Seed Savers began when she served as US Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines from 2006-2008. She was fortunate enough to be assigned to the town of Tublay in Benguet Province and the loving Cosalan Family as her host family. Sherry dedicated her service to helping the Cosalan’s develop their ancestral land ENCA Farm (our founding partner), into an organic farming training center, youth environmental education facility, and leading sustainable eco-tourism destination. This critical work continued when she founded Friends of ENCA Farm (now Global Seed Savers) in 2010 to support ENCA Farm’s programs in the Philippines and build advocacy in the U.S. through her role as Executive Director. In 2015, under Sherry’s strategic leadership Friends of ENCA Farm began to expand their work beyond their founding farm and in light of this growth and success, in October 2017 they announced their new name Global Seed Savers at the 7th Annual Nourish Event.