Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Six Strategies for Nonprofit Shoestring Budgets

Do you feel a pressing need to help your community transition to a more sustainable and resilient economy and agriculture, but don't think you have the money needed to fund a Transition project or nonprofit organization?

If you are willing to work for free, fear not! You can start your own Transition initiative - workshops, film screenings, networking events, and permablitzes - with only a shoestring budget. There is one vital prerequisite: you need a core group of dedicated volunteers, ideally people who have a variety of community connections and are willing to donate their time to organize and market the group's events and other offerings. These people are the foundation of all your efforts and the heart of your organization.

Six strategies that will help get you started with a minimum budget include:

1. Partner with an established organization

In the United States, nonprofit organizations can obtain special 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status from the IRS, which has obvious money-saving benefits, but requires an extensive amount of time and hassle to achieve. If you have a vision and mission aligned with a nonprofit organization that already has 501(c)(3) status, and they agree to sponsor your efforts, you will have avoided a lot of delays and paperwork headaches. These groups often have a budget to get you started, and resources are available to 501(c)(3) groups that are not available to other organizations (for example, discounted software and special bulk mailing rates). Additionally, if your sponsoring group has an established membership, you will automatically have a pool of contacts to notify of events, projects, and volunteer needs.

If you do decide to partner with an established 501(c)(3) or other organization, be aware that part of your efforts will likely go toward maintaining communication with their board, supporting their efforts (fundraising and otherwise), requesting permission for expenditures, and may require some compromises on your part. In most cases, if your relationship is collegial and the board lets you operate autonomously, the time spent is well worth the rewards.

2. Take advantage of free and low-cost marketing

You can design and market workshops, film screenings, fundraisers and other projects using Facebook, Twitter, and Constant Contact. Facebook allows you to create "events" and invite your friends, who can then invite their friends, and so forth. Constant Contact enables you to e-mail attractive event invitations to hundreds or thousands of people without automatically being relegated to the spam box. Facebook is free, while Constant Contact has a free starting promotion, which you can upgrade once you reach a certain number contacts.

Find your local listservs, which are e-mail groups that allow people to share information and ask questions about common topics of interest. There may be local food, environmental, peak oil, health, emergency preparedness, gardening, permaculture, or sustainability listservs in your area that you can use to spread the word about your group's offerings.

Note that online marketing will inevitably miss a portion of the population. If you are marketing to older people, or those who can't afford computers, be sure to include alternative marketing strategies such as posters and fliers in appropriate places, announcements in printed newsletters, etc. However, if you are not using Facebook to market, you will most likely be missing out on the younger (under 30) population, who may expect that all experiences will have an associated Facebook event.

3. Get free training or help from community or government organizations

Organizations and even governments in cities across the nation offer training, printing services, and help writing grants to small nonprofits. The organizations usually have names like "Community" or "Neighborhood" in them. Your state Department of Environmental Quality or city Sustainability Office may be able to provide you with materials, supplies, printing, or other helpful resources. Find these organizations and departments and use them.

You can also contact a group with a similar purpose (such as a Transition group) in a nearby city to see if they will help you get started, either via sharing resources (like marketing materials or presentations) or simply by helping you find the local government and other associations that assist small nonprofits.

4. Co-sponsor, co-sponsor, co-sponsor

Does your 501(c)(3)organization have limited funds? If you are organizing an event, try to find co-sponsors with common interests who will help pay for food and supplies, provide free space, loan you equipment, or help you market your event. Co-sponsors may also be willing to serve on your event team or help design the event. Co-sponsoring not only offers a way to obtain resources and supplies, but also increases the "reach" of your marketing, as your co-sponsors will be invested in helping your event achieve a successful turnout.

Volunteers in your core team will likely have contacts at art galleries, local co-ops, government groups, other nonprofits, universities and schools, and religious organizations and schools, all of whom tend to be sympathetic to the needs of other small nonprofit groups. Ask for the ideas and contacts of your group, and take advantage of them.

5. Easy fundraising

Fundraising often invokes images of gala events. But if your organization only requires a little money, you might not need something so complicated. If you, your core team and co-sponsors can front the money needed to pay for a film screening, or for event food / alcohol, you might be able to recoup much or all of your investment via a donation jar, especially if it is labeled "Funding Future Events," or by simply charging a small fee ($15 - 50) for workshops. This type of small donation could meet your funding requirements until you need and are able to get grants, larger donations, or hold larger fundraising events.

6. In-kind donations

If you have already gathered a dedicated group of talented volunteers, they are usually eager to contribute their talents - writing, graphic design, web design, organizational skills, and teaching skills such as permaculture or canning.

Volunteers or board and committee members are also often willing to "potluck" events by loaning the equipment and supplies necessary (such as glasses and tableware, tables, audiovisual equipment and laptops, etc.) and bringing a small item such as food, wine or beer, flowers, etc. This strategy allows each person to provide a small expenditure to fund an event - rather than having to spend time and effort fundraising to make the event possible.

And, of course, your group can request in-kind donations such as food, plants, prizes for raffles, space for meetings and events, and services from the very local businesses that you are likely promoting. This generosity is usually rewarded with ample recognition during your events or on your marketing materials, as well as a nice thank-you card and, hopefully, patronage from your core team members.

Transition OKC

We have used all these strategies at Transition OKC to be able to hold a training, informational events, several film screenings, over a dozen presentations, several workshops and networking events, and fund an e-newsletter, website, Facebook page, brochures and other marketing materials, with only a few hundred dollars of out-of-pocket expenses (paid by our sponsor Sustainable OKC as well as donations from the local Sierra Club Cimarron Group).

As we grow, we may need greater funding to accomplish our goals and may need to dedicate more effort to obtaining grants or donations. But up until now, through the dedication of my co-chair Shauna Struby and the generosity and ingenuity of our core team of volunteers and sponsors, who have donated their time, talents, resources, connections, in-kind donations, and money, we have been able to focus our energy on grass-roots education, awareness and networking rather than needing to spend inordinate amounts of time fundraising or writing grants.

Viva la volunteer!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

EVOLVE Local Food Challenge

Oklahoma City chefs will be creating tasty local food treats as part of Sustainable OKC's EVOLVE juried art exhibition and fundraiser, and our first Transition OKC juried Local Food Challenge this Saturday, April 23rd. Six notable chefs will be judged by a panel of foodies as the public enjoys their local creations and votes for the People's Choice award.

Check out the EVOLVE / Local Food Challenge Facebook event or buy $25 tickets (or individual sponsorships!) online here or at the door.

Local art -- food -- fun

Art exhibition jurors
Randy Marks, Groundwork
Stephen Kovash, Istvan Gallery

+ Oklahoma City's first juried Local Food Challenge
Who will use the most local food? Chefs, caterers & restaurants compete for a $500 grand prize.

Local Food Challenge contestants
Chef Kurt Fleischfresser
Chef Kamala Gamble
Prairie Gypsies
Chef Ryan Parrott
The Wedge Pizzeria

Local Food Challenge Jurors
Carol Smaglinski, food editor, Oklahoma Gazette
Chef Jonathon Stranger, Ludivine
Linda Trippe, The Lady Chef

+ YOU vote for the People's Choice Aware $1 raffle ticket = 1 vote

tickets $25 @ the door or online @ www.sustainableokc.org

Local Food Challenge organized by Transition OKC, a program of Sustainable OKC, www.goinglocalokc.org.

Music by thespyfm.com

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Local Food Panel Discussion

I was recently asked to moderate a Local Food Panel Discussion for an Earth Day event. Supposedly, this was targeted for a group of people that weren't already knowledgeable about local food. It didn't exactly work out, but the preperatory work was already done, so.... here it is, in case you ever need to throw together such an event.

I'm known for being extremely prepared, so this includes the introductory text as well as questions for the panel experts. I recommend reading whatever speech you write out loud once or twice, as grammatically correct text doesn't necessarily sound right when spoken aloud. There are also some decent tips here on moderating panel discussions.


Welcome to the XXX Earth Day Local Food Panel Discussion! Thank you for coming, and please take a moment now to turn your cell phones off. Kathy will be available throughout the panel discussion to take your written questions, so feel free to give your index cards to her and we will take several questions from the audience at the end of the panel.

We have a trio of knowledgeable, experienced and passionate local food advocates here today to discuss the meaning and importance of local food, the latest developments in the local food movement, and how you can find and use local food for the health of your family and the environment.

Before we begin, let’s take a quick survey of the audience: Who here feels very familiar with what the local food is all about? Who is here to learn more about HOW to buy and use local food? Who is here to learn more about WHY to buy local food?

To start this discussion, what is local food and where did this movement come from? In the last decade, the popularity of books such as Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Vegetable Miracle, and films such as Super Size Me and Food, Inc., began inspiring citizens to question the dominance of the anonymous corporate food chain and to re-discover the value of fresh, humane, beyond-organic food grown and raised by local farmers and ranchers. Growth of local food since then has been phenomenal - the number of Farmer’s Markets has tripled nationwide since 1994, while our own Oklahoma Food Coop has increased from 36 members in 2003 to almost 4,000 today.

Local food has now taken a place as a key pillar of the sustainability movement, but the appeal is not limited to environmentalists. Fresh and healthy food appeals to mothers and fathers, physicians and ministers, and social justice advocates. Whether you lean left or right, whether you consider yourself liberal or conservative, we all have to eat. And to be healthy, we need to eat healthy food.

Our panelists today are Ryan Parrott, Stephanie Jordan and Chelsey Simpson. Ryan Parrott’s cooking career began at age 15, and he is now the head chef at the Iguana Mexican Grill, where he features local ingredients in many of his signature dishes. Ryan is also the founder and head chef at Table One, where all meals are designed around ingredients that are local and in-season.

Stephanie Jordan has a wide range of local food experience. She serves on the board of Buy Fresh Buy Local and as a local food advocate on the Sierra Club’s Executive and Conservation Committees. In her career as personal chef, she cooks primarily local food dishes sourced from the Farmer's Market and the ingredients available from Rose Ranch Jones. And most recently, she and her husband Doug began operating a transitional farm and ranch in Jones, OK.

Chelsey Simpson is the President of the Oklahoma Food Cooperative. The OK Food Coop, started in 2003, delivers over $1 million per year of fresh local fruits, vegetables, grains, eggs and meat – straight from the farms to the consumers. For her day job, Chelsey works at the national Farm to School network, which connects schools with local farms in order to serve healthy meals and improve student nutrition. She recently returned from a trip to Vermont, where she explored their latest farm to school innovations.

Welcome to our panelists!

This first question is for all the panelists. What does local food mean to you and why do you support eating and using local food?

This next question is for Chelsey. What ideas or inspiration have you drawn from the local food movements of other cities and states? What are the missing links that we need here in Oklahoma City to grow and strengthen our local food system?

This question is for Stephanie. The average age of an American farmer is fifty-seven, and we need a new generation of farmers to replace the ones we are losing to retirement. What are some difficulties or obstacles you encountered as you began farming and how have you overcome them?

This question is again for all of the panelists. What do you see as the difficulties or downsides in using local food? This could be difficulties for farmers and ranchers, individuals, restaurants, businesses, etc.

This question is for any and all panelists. How does supporting local agriculture benefit our economy in Oklahoma City?

This question is for Ryan. You mentioned earlier that you use % local food in your restaurant. What changes would you have to see in our local food system infrastructure or supply in order to be able to double or triple that percentage?

For Stephanie and then anyone else. All the recent food movements - organic, vegetarian, school nutrition, and local food - have been accused of being elitist at some point. Is local food elitist? Why or why not?

What are the most important steps that our Oklahoma City or Oklahoma State governments could take to support the local food economy?

And finally, again for all the panelists, how would you recommend that someone new to local food begin? What one or two steps could they take?

And now we will take a few written questions from the audience.

Thank you again to both our audience and our panelists for your attention and participation, and thank you to our sponsor, XXX for organizing this panel. If you are interested in more information on local foods feel free to talk to the panelists after the session, take a Buy Fresh Buy Local guide, or visit the Sierra Club booth here at the Earthday celebration.

And now, if each panelist could share where they can be found online for further information. To start, I’m Christine Patton, co-chair of Transition OKC and facilitator of the Going Locavore local food networking and strategy group. We invite everyone to join us at Sustainable OKC's EVOLVE Local Food Challenge on April 23rd, which will feature creative in-season local food offerings from six local chefs. Transition OKC can be found at our website http://www.goinglocalokc.org/ and our Transition OKC Facebook page.

Ryan? ...Stephanie? ...Chelsey?