CBOs — community based organizations — are fascinating organizations and ones from which every nonprofit can learn a valuable lesson: the more time you spend in the street, the bigger your impression and your impact. Many provide outreach programs and direct services outside of their home base; you can find CBO program sites in church basements housing facilities and even storefronts.
A CEO of a community-based organization with several community locations in New York City once told me: “We are a retail business and the more touch we have with the community, the better we do.” I love the analogy: in retail, if you have market presence, you will thrive. Leave yourself in the corner of a strip mall and you will wither on the vine. So, to wit, good retailers operate on the premise of location, location, location. Not only do you invite customer touch but the more visible your brand, the more investment you will attract.
So, if your organization t operates multiple program sites, how can you build a bigger footprint? At a first glance, many organizations offer multiple services in multiple locations. And many fall into the “trap” of looking at each location is unique rather than as a part of a bigger story. In many instances, I have spent time with clients drawing comparisons between programs to identify a bigger footprint to present to a grantmaker.
- Tutorial programs at 3 satellite locations becomes a single program with common goals and objectives replicated in three places.
- Education programs in eight schools are now described as elements of a unified education initiative based on nonprofit/school partnerships with the ultimate goal of moving high school students into college
And building a bigger footprint is not just about changing perceptions. As you recast and re-frame the program in your proposals, sometimes the organizational strategy begins to shift. In the case of the second program above, as a result of re-imagining their education work as falling under one umbrella, the organization is now reaching into new communities, building new partnerships, reaching even more students. This bigger footprint has provided stronger results and is opening up new opportunities — which both combine to create interest among larger foundations and excitement from existing donors.
In these cases and many others, a smaller organization that has a good reputation, solid community connections and a firm toehold in the community has a fine opportunity to present a bigger footprint. So fine, in fact, that the footprint doesn’t necessarily have to be built. The imprint is there; you just need to fill the space between the lines.