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Good for Santa Barbara

Innovative Approaches Ensure Nonprofit Organizations Survive and Thrive in New Era

Music Academy of the West, Santa Barbara Zoo and others tailor programs to reach new audiences and supporters

In 2015, the Music Academy of the West hosted a concert at which Music Academy fellows performed with the New York Philharmonic under music director Alan Gilbert in Santa Barbara. Tickets cost $10 tickets as the part of the Community Access Initiative to foster the participation of future audiences. Click to view larger
In 2015, the Music Academy of the West hosted a concert at which Music Academy fellows performed with the New York Philharmonic under music director Alan Gilbert in Santa Barbara. Tickets cost $10 tickets as the part of the Community Access Initiative to foster the participation of future audiences. (Chris Lee photo)

The Santa Barbara Zoo gives donors hands-on experiences while Music Academy of the West takes steps to create its audiences for the future.

These are two of the many innovations in Santa Barbara County’s nonprofit community, as organizations evolve to not only survive but thrive in the 21st century.

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Innovation can affect every aspect of a nonprofit organization, including how it operates. Many nonprofits now work collaboratively instead of competitively with each other.

Organizations’ approaches to accommodate a new generation of donors also has changed.

“What we’re seeing is much more collaboration,” said Ron Gallo, president and CEO of the Santa Barbara Foundation. “And that is worth noting because that’s always been kind of a difficult thing for many nonprofits because there is such a competition over resources.

“More and more nonprofits are seeing the importance of and the long-term value of collaborating with their colleagues,” he added.

This collaboration can be seen at high levels to include something as simple as organizations being housed under the same roof, sharing support staff, or even exploring mergers, said Cynder Sinclair, CEO of the Santa Barbara-based Nonprofit Kinect.

Another effort involves uniting nonprofit leaders so they meet regularly with a goal to break down perceived, if not real, competition, Sinclair said. Courage to Lead, a program operated by Santa Barbara-based Leading from Within, lets nonprofit leaders get to know each other.

“Not only is trust built but there’s a lot of focus on abundance thinking versus scarcity thinking,” Sinclair told Noozhawk. “People leave there being hungry for exploring new ways of working together.

“And not only that, but eager for new ways of supporting each other,” she added.

Both Gallo and Sinclair cited the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County as one nonprofit organization employing innovative methods while helping to feed the community.

One way involves how it handles volunteers — dubbed knowledge philanthropists, Sinclair said.

“They look at volunteers differently than most organizations do,” she explained. “They look at the community differently.”

She noted in a previous Noozhawk column on the Foodbank’s creative approach that it doesn’t view volunteers as simply menial labor. Instead, community members were invited to act as advisers or run a program, using their strengths and skills.

Other innovations involve something taken for granted today, but wasn’t a worry 20 years ago — technology.

This includes ensuring the nonprofit’s website is user friendly, interactive and interesting, said Elaine Mah Best, development director at the Santa Barbara Zoo.

“Now people are looking for quick information on how they can support the causes that they care about,” she said. “It’s almost a whole other facet of development that didn’t exist before.”

Counters young and old are prepped and armed with tools for a Monarch butterfly count organized by the Santa Barbara Zoo. Click to view larger
Counters young and old are prepped and armed with tools for a Monarch butterfly count organized by the Santa Barbara Zoo. (Rich Block photo)

The evolution of social media has brought new twists for development directors and marketing teams, with online reviews now giving anyone a say — both positive and negative.

“It’s a totally different world,” Best noted.

The approach to grant giving also has changed. In the past, foundations handed out grants to organizations doing good work.

“But more and more what you’re seeing are grants that really are about getting results and moving the needle and changing things more systemically,” Gallo said. “I think that’s been the biggest changeover the last seven to 10 years.”

Recipients of grants are encouraged to be innovative in their approaches and be more specific than just saying a programs helps poor kids or hosts concerts.

“We’re asking people to stretch or tell us how they can help solve the biggest challenges that face Santa Barbarans — and I mean that in terms of the whole county — through whatever they do,” Gallo said.

For example, the Santa Barbara Foundation urged the Music Academy of the West and other arts groups to explore how to develop future audiences as the community’s Latino population grows and fewer people seem interested in classical music.

The Santa Barbara Zoo created opportunities for donors to learn about conservation with an event counting Monarch butterflies. Click to view larger
The Santa Barbara Zoo created opportunities for donors to learn about conservation with an event counting Monarch butterflies. (Rich Block photo)

“A few years we were sending out the signals — not just to the Music Academy but to the arts organizations, how can you meaningfully ... get more people who will be the future audiences and leaders and citizens of this county interested in the arts,” Gallo said.

The Music Academy stepped forward with the Community Access Initiative, which Gallo says might not have materialized as quickly without the impetus from the foundation.

“It wasn’t just we’ll give away a few extra tickets, but a full-on assault on how they could really open up the Music Academy to all,” he said.

Last year, the Music Academy presented a New York Philharmonic Orchestra concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl and made some seats free while selling others at a low cost.

“They filled the Bowl,” Gallo said, adding that he repeatedly heard comments from families at the event that it was their first time at the Santa Barbara Bowl or their first classical music concert.

“And it was a raucous evening,” he said.

This year, the Music Academy decided to make a block of tickets available at low cost for summer events — with hundreds of people seeking those tickets on the day of release.

“To me that’s moving the needle,” Gallo said. “That’s not just saying, ‘Will you give us a grant to underwrite production or just for our general operating support?’”

Instead, the Music Academy serves as an example of an institution that met the Santa Barbara Foundation more than half way in tackling a big issue, he added.

“It’s not always going to be the big scary ones — violence and people living on the street or not getting medical care,” Gallo said.

“It can be in almost any field that people can stretch themselves and try to improve the future, the best collective future of Santa Barbara.”

A New Generation of Donors

As the population shifts, nonprofit organizations must adjust, especially in attracting a new generation of donors.

“I wouldn’t say they are less motivated,” Gallo said. “I wouldn’t say they are less generous. I think those are easy conclusions and they’re wrong ones.”

Instead, he said, “it’s different.”

Previous generations might have handed over money to an organization, relying on it to funnel the funding to its pet project.

The next generation of philanthropists is much more focused on results, Gallo said.

“They’re not as interested in institutional loyalty,” he added.

“Now it’s about: What is it you’re doing? I may want to be a part of it. I will give money to it if you can show me that it’s bringing results, but that’s not a guarantee that I’m going to give next year.”

New donors want to see value for their contributions.

“It just takes much more thoughtfulness, to approach, to interest and to keep the allegiance of the populations that are coming up now,” Gallo said. “But I certainly wouldn’t sell them short in terms of their desire to want to improve the world.”

Every nonprofit organization must look forward to remain relevant.

“It’s a challenging time for nonprofits, but I certainly don’t think it’s a doomsday scenario,” Gallo said, adding the best nonprofits are thinking about new markets in terms of donors and needs to those being served.

Best, the zoo’s development director, calls the next generation of donors exciting.

“They want to get involved,” she said. “They want to get their hands dirty. They want to go out in the field for our conservation program. They want to do things. They want to be a part of things, and I think that’s really exciting.”

The next generation of donors is smart, educated and worldly, she said.

“They want to do good with the philanthropy, and they not only have the means, but they’re making the time to do it in such a neat and profound way,” she added.

The zoo created opportunities for donors to learn about conservation, for example by hosting donors to help count Monarch butterflies.

“This isn’t something I did years ago,” she said. “It was more, ‘Come on tour and see what we’re doing.’ It’s not, ‘Come and do this with us.’

“It’s different, and so it’s really fun for us to be able to offer to our donors.”

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Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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