Immigrant populations often have significant language barriers which in turn make it extremely difficult to improve their socioeconomic status (Clayton-Matthews, 2009). As of 2012, 29.9% of the immigrants from Africa in the United States did not speak English well or even at all (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012). As detailed in the survey conducted by Clayton and Mathews in the year 2007, the number of African immigrants in the state of Massachusetts totaled 70,000. Though the specific number of those in Massachusetts struggling with the English language is unknown, the U.S Census Bureau information make clear that African immigrants could use assistance learning English as that service is not adequately being provided through the America’s standard education system.
In the United States, students are placed in academic levels according primarily to their age rather than their current level of knowledge. Immigrant children are expected to fit neatly into the American education system, without much consideration to the fact that they may not have the same academic background and may face challenging language barriers.
In order to help the African adults and youth who are facing educational and language barriers succeed in Worcester, two affiliates of the University of Massachusetts Medical School created a nonprofit organization called the African Community Education (ACE) program. What started out as a few college student tutoring a small number of Liberian youth, ACE has grown into a fully operational organization that provides African immigrant and refugee youth a number of educational programming. Examples include an after school homework sessions complete with one on one assistance and life skills workshops that range from financial literacy to healthy dating practices. A weekend day school that focuses on English and Math is held every Saturday. Students are fed two meals, are taught a math and an English class based on skill level, then later may engage in other recreational activities such as dance, basketball, soccer or a creative self-expression class. ACE offers a positive learning environment as well as a place that students can blend any and all cultures, resulting in a space that is completely theirs. It is important to note that these services are provided at no cost to ACE students or families as a result of the funding secured by the ACE staff.
ACE receives the majority of its funding through short-term grants, some with requirements that must be fulfilled to obtain the money, and others without. To stabilize their funding, ACE is striving to find new, long-term funding sources. Unfortunately, ACE does not currently have the budget to hire a full time fundraising director to organize and analyze fundraising events. Because ACE needs to increase their unrestricted funding, money that can go towards any purpose, our group worked to develop a yearly operational fundraising plan and a compilation of evaluated potential fundraising campaigns. Throughout the whole process of developing an idea, drafting, and finally delivering the final documents, we made sure to meet with both the staff and Board of ACE. It was quickly apparent how important it was to make sure that ACE as a whole was involved in the process. This would ensure that once gone, ACE would know exactly how to implement our suggestions should they choose to take them. With the analysis of possible fundraisers and the breakdown of current fundraisers, the process of planning fundraisers is simplified allowing both staff and Board to devote more time to finding and creating more sources of unrestricted funding.
In order to achieve our project goal of developing and implementing sustainable fundraising operations that would help to increase and stabilize ACE’s fund revenue we identified four objectives that we needed to complete. Our project objectives were:
- Identify ACE’s fundraising priorities
- Improve ACE’s current event operations
- Analyze potential ACE fundraising campaigns
- Promote the implementation of the fundraising operations we developed amongst the current ACE staff, volunteers and Board members
Our group employed a variety of methods in order to accomplish these four objectives. In order to achieve the first objective of identifying ACE’s fundraising priorities we conducted semi-structured interviews with the staff and Board to acquire a more in-depth understanding of the organization. We were also able to identify each individual’s fundraising priorities. We attended each weekly staff meeting and monthly Board meeting in order to gather consensus on the fundraising priorities of the organization as a whole.
In order to gather additional information about the event operations we volunteered at many ACE programs and events that took place during the course of time we had with ACE. Events we attended include the 2013 Fall Fundraiser, the after school program and the Saturday program. Becoming a part of ACE’s volunteer base allowed us to experience the manner in which ACE staff delegated tasks, communicated with one another and the execution and follow through that occurred at the conclusion of important events. In order to learn more about individual efforts, we asked staff and Board members about the specific roles each of them filled during their fundraising efforts when we interviewed them. We also presented a survey to the staff using Qualtrics Research Suite in order to gather data on the number of hours per week that program employees spent on marketing and fundraising initiatives compared to the ideal number of hours they would like to spend on these tasks. To improve the documentation of ACE’s largest event, the Fall Fundraiser, our group met with the chair of the event Andrea Posa. During this meeting we gathered as much information on the execution of the fundraiser as we could and compiled this information into an operations manual for ACE. In order to learn more about how other nonprofit organizations work and generate stronger recommendations for ACE, we interviewed a number of people who hold administrative positions dealing with either finances or management at other Worcester nonprofit organizations. Each nonprofit offered useful information that our team later compiled into a spreadsheet that can be reviewed by ACE.
To gain an understanding of ACE’s current decision making process we interviewed David Le Boeuf, Marketing Coordinator. Mr. Le Boeuf had recently implemented a new fundraising campaign, an annual appeal, during the course of our project. During our interview we discussed his decision making process regarding this new fundraising campaign. Our group utilized the NABC value proposition, a tool design by Stanford Research Institute (SRI) to assess ideas and aide in the decision making process to analyze potential ACE fundraising initiatives (Carlson & Wilmot, 2006). We gathered a number of fundraising ideas made by staff and Board members through interviews and compiled them into a single list to analyze. We analyzed these potential fundraising initiatives using the NABC to create a compilation of analyzed fundraising campaigns.
Our final objective was to promote the implementation of our fundraising operations amongst the current ACE staff, volunteers and Board. To do this we attended every staff and Board meeting during the course of our project to gather constructive feedback on our progress. Once we researched and understood the NABC value proposition model, we presented the model to the staff to ensure they felt it was a useful tool. At the end of our project, we presented our final deliverables to our sponsors focusing on how ACE could use our deliverables after we left.
The methods we used to complete our project objectives revealed several findings that contributed to the completion of our project goal; to develop and implement fundraising operations that would help to increase and stabilize their fund revenue. Our group compiled ten findings throughout our project. The findings uncovered related to the motivation of the staff, the funding priorities of ACE, intra-organizational communication, the roles definition amongst the staff and Board, and documentation.
The ACE staff are motivated to work beyond their base-line employee obligations.
Our group found that the ACE staff are motivated to work beyond their base-line employee obligations from the interviews we conducted with the staff and from the results of the fundraising effort survey we sent out. All of the ACE staff we interviewed work beyond their job responsibilities. From the survey we learned that all ACE staff contribute in some form to ACE marketing and fundraising even though very few have jobs related to marketing and fundraising.
ACE’s greatest funding need is to increase their unrestricted funding.
Through our interviews with the staff and Board we found that ACE needs to expand their unrestricted funding. The program is currently poorly equipped to handle situations where funding is unexpectedly cut as demonstrated by their reaction to the recent loss of transportation funding. The program is also unable to hire Executive Director, Kaska Yawo as a full time staff member because they do not have the funds to be able to provide healthcare benefits to their employees.
ACE Board members need a system of communication to use amongst themselves.
Through attending Board meetings and interviewing Board members our group noticed that the Board needs a better system of communication . At a Board meeting we attended, Molly Storer reflected that she did not always know what task to complete for the Fall Fundraiser because there was no central place where tasks were listed. Through our interviews, we learned that the new committee system the Board had implemented for the Fall Fundraiser was ineffective because the chair roles were undefined.
There is a miscommunication of priorities from the Board to the staff and from the staff to the Board.
Our group realized that the staff and the Board did not agree with each other’s priorities through our interviews with the staff and Board and through attending Board meetings. We noticed that while the Board is more concerned with “big picture” ideas, the staff focuses more on specific details with regards to fundraising initiatives. Mr. Yawo, who is supposed to serve as the liaison between the staff and the Board, works part time, so communication between the staff and Board suffers.
The lack of hierarchical authority in ACE results in reduced accountability amongst staff and Board.
By attending Board meetings and Board interviews our group found that the lack of accountability in ACE is due to their lack of a hierarchical authority structure. Staff members expressed that a difficulty they experienced during the planning and execution of the Fall Fundraiser was the lack of a clear chain of command. Through our interview with Olga Valdman, Co-Founder and Vice-Chair of the Board, we found that she felt ACE needed a clear leader for every aspect of ACE.
ACE has not defined clear staff roles related to fundraising
We found that ACE has not defined clear staff roles through our interviews with the staff. We learned that many fundraising tasks are taken on by staff members on an “as needed” basis. Due to the lack of clearly defined roles many tasks get worked on twice by two staff members while others are not worked on at all.
ACE Board members do not all understand their role as a Board member of ACE
Through the interviews that we had with the recently inducted Board members of ACE, we found that not all ACE Board members understand their Board responsibilities. We interviewed the three recently inducted Board members of ACE and all claimed that they did not have a clear understanding of their responsibilities. Ms. Storer and Dennis Nyeayea both claim that they would be able to devote more time to ACE if they knew what they could do for ACE as a Board member.
The operations of ACE’s Fall Fundraiser are poorly documented
During our interviews with ACE staff and Board we learned that there was almost no documentation on how the Fall Fundraiser was planned and executed over the past two years. The members of the staff and Board that had worked to plan the event in the past had a clear idea of what had to be done but the rest of the program had no documentation to work from and had to rely on the returning members.
ACE does not have an efficient system to track their donors
We found that ACE does not have an efficient system to track their donors through our interviews with the ACE Board and staff. Ms. Connery explained to our group that ACE has three donor databases currently with differing purposes and information. This system makes it difficult for ACE to track their donors. Ms. Valdman would like to see ACE also track how donors are related to ACE, as they do not currently track this information. Mr. Le Boeuf has implemented an annual appeal to gauge the activity of ACE’s donor base but feels the current donor base is not a sufficient structure to keep track of the results of his annual appeal.
There is no system in ACE to document the planning of new fundraising initiatives
The ACE staff and Board begin to plan new ideas without having a systematic approach to how new fundraising should be implemented. We learned through our interviews with the Board and staff that many of the fundraising decisions the program makes do not have a decision making process to support them. This makes it difficult for the staff to pitch ideas to the Board because the Board needs to see more of a decision making process and weigh the options before they are willing to implement a new idea.
Our student project group devised seven recommendations for the African Community Education program to improve their fundraising operations. The seven recommendations we devised are for ACE to:
1. Use the ACE mission as a marketing tool
2. Improve the donor database organization
3. Develop and implement a yearly Board orientation
4. Have both staff and Board represented at staff and Board meetings
5. Use Ticketleap.com to organize event attendance and ticket sales
6. Apply the NABC value proposition to the list of fundraising ideas we compiled to strategize new fundraising events
7. Utilize and improve upon the operations plan we developed for the Fall Fundraiser
It is our hope that with the suggestions we proposed and the strategies we provided to ACE, that we have helped ACE along its journey of creating and implementing a strategic fundraising plan. Our group hopes to return to ACE at a future time to observe the long term effect that we’ve had on ACE’s operational structure and overall success.
We strongly desire that our project helped to give ACE renewed incentive to actually implement all of the ideas it has. ACE knows what areas it struggles with, yet the staff does not have the time to address them. ACE is an important and impactful organization and we hope our efforts help ACE continue to be a light in the Worcester community.