[SP] Internship training center so I really became grounded in that. I have two academic degrees so I was pretty well-versed in research and writing. That was a good fit for me, and I started out working in the arts which was my graduate degree focus. I gravitated pretty quickly to major gift campaigns, and just kind of liked working on those as they had a more thoughtful, long-term, big picture vision. So I’ve worked with a lot of different groups, but a lot in the arts and environment over the years. I have worked in Austin, where I got my start, then I moved to Dallas and worked in San Antonio, Dallas, and Corpus Christi.
I wrote a lot of my experiences over the years in my blog, Carolyn’s
Nonprofit Blog, which you can find in our links section. I love the
nonprofit sector of course, and I find it very fulfilling. Right now what I
am doing, well since the economy took a dive major gift campaigns were put
on hold while everyone was figuring out what they were going to do to
survive. I stopped and started a blog, but then I began reevaluating
things, and I’ve worked with some really big groups and some major funding
groups over the years. I met Gina Lamont, and the chairman of the board
Craig Snook [SP] of EcoRise Youth Innovations at ecorise.org. Over the
years in my environmental work, I have worked quite a bit with this ominous
topic of environmental education. I was appointed by Governor Rick Perry
for two consecutive terms on the Texas Environmental Education Partnership
Fund board. As part of that, one effort was basically to get more kids
outdoors, and tackle the issue of children having nature deficit disorder
and losing touch, and just not being able to take care of and understand
our future world.
I have touched on that theme through my career both as a professional and
as a volunteer on that committee. What struck me about Ecorise and
encouraged me to work for it, was that the focus is more on next generation
environmental education. Rather than an elective or an after school kind of
activity, it is really an in-school program aligned with the Science
Technology Engineering and Math curriculum – along with the arts, so it’s
STEAM and not just STEM. It focuses on key environmental issues and not
just ‘how pretty’ nature is. It’s in our food, transportation, waste,
water, public spaces, and air quality. What they do includes studying
heavily, and a lot of people think you’re not being serious if you’re doing
what Ecorise does. They’re really very serious about the content, but they
do talk about the challenges we face in these areas while help the kids be
innovators and encourage them to think, ‘Yes this is a problem, but why
don’t we develop a solution?’ It helps students to use their own brains and
creativity. It brings over 500 trained professionals that come and mentor
kids, from local producers of green resources. They come in and explain
what their job is, for example one fellow The Compost Peddler who comes in
and says ‘this is what I’m doing’. People growing food in their
The kids also develop projects. They’ve developed gardens, and they’ve
developed solutions to water systems. It’s much more effective is the
overall point. I was so taken after a decade of working with environmental
groups that this was so concrete and in the school, and a serious focus of
study for the kids.
Steven: So you joined Ecorise as Development Director. You described it to me as
sort of a start-up nonprofit, and as I see on the website the staff seems
really young, it’s a new organization, and you’ve been working with
nonprofits for a long time. You probably could have gone to a big,
established nonprofit if you wanted to and easily get plugged into that
system. But you’re working at a start-up nonprofit which I’m sure has all
kinds of interesting challenges. Could you talk a little bit about what
those things are and what it’s like to be at a new, small, young nonprofit?
Carolyn: Yes, definitely. I would say with Ecorise, of course it’s fun and young
and sounds cool, ‘startup yay!’ But the fact is that it’s really hard work.
When you’re pushing into a new market, a lot of established nonprofits have
already had their nurturing, cultivating their funders, they’re all kind of
set with that while we’re still finding new ones. What I’m doing is,
although I’ve approached many funders in the past, they’re new and fresh
and different. One wonderful firm called Zorplace[SP] is a funder. It’s a
new cast of characters, and for me that’s great. Ecorise started out from
2008-2012, that was its nurturing window and it actually was overseen and
administrated by the Austin Community Foundation as a separate fund, and it
had just broken free right after that. So we’re all free standing now, and
it’s a lot of work. I would say get a good accountant to be kept on track,
because when you’re small staffed and growing, you’re absorbing new
projects, new schools, and always trying to recruit new schools. You become
For a long time Ecorise had a very simple website that students helped put
together, which was kind of a cool thing. But you can’t really do that
anymore. People judge you, and potential donors judge you on how you look
online. We have some great interns, including one we have now named Kamila
T[SP] who is helping us with our social networking. However, at some point
you really have to know the organization in order tweet, to post on
Facebook in a meaningful way. So because I love social media and go on
there all the time, as you may have noticed, I have taken over the social
media just this past month and a half. I’m talking and speaking and being
the voice, but it’s because I have Gina there telling me what they’re doing
now that I can translate that. It makes it much better. It really can make
difference to a small nonprofit to have a more sophisticated online
presence. The website can’t look goofy.
Invest in a good constituent management system, to get your data and to
hold it in house. We have Z2 Neon which is a very affordable program I know
from nonprofit technology networks. Get that data in there! The thing is
with new technology, I love it but not everyone does. It can make it a lot
easier, and you can really do the work of more than one person yourself.
You just have to stop and take the time to learn that technology.
Steven: It seems like those things are more critical to a new nonprofit, because
you don’t have the established name recognition, the brand, and maybe not a
lot of the resources needed to do a lot of traditional advertising.
Carolyn: We’re experimenting with promoted posts on Facebook, but we’re kind of
getting over that hurdle now. If they don’t eventually like us, do they
really care about us? I try and counsel people about how there are plenty
of people who do pay attention to you, and who do like what your group is
doing. If they officially like you sometimes they’ll have to like 40,000
other groups, because people judge you. Some donors don’t care though, and
they’ll like what they like on there and say it. A lot of big donors,
especially major gift donors, don’t officially like it. That’s why you
still have to be on there, and you have to look good. There are ways to do
that with WordPress and with websites and such in cost effective ways. As I
said you’ll need a good accountant, and someone to hold your balloon down
as it travels into the atmosphere and tries to float away. So again, look
good online, adopt good technology at the outset, and learn that.
Another thing is that there a lot of boomers, and I’ll admit I’m a boomer.
They’re wanting to start new nonprofits, so they think it sounds fun and
fulfilling, and it is, but it is really a lot of work if you do it well.
And I would say that Boomerang is addressing this directly as far as the
donor attention issue. A lot of donors are really sticking with their core,
and groups that they’ve always given to. They’re not that willing to adopt
new ones. To break into that is a tough deal, and the nonprofits are very
competitive with each other. It’s a little more aggressive to market on all
fronts. If you’re trying to break into a new market, don’t assume that you
can set up your mobile giving campaign and a million dollars is going to
Carolyn: You have to be really realistic and thoughtful about how you go about
it, and it would be nice for a start-up to have some initial investors.
Ecorise has been fortunate to have a few of those, but we just need more
because what’s happened is that it began in Austin, and it’s starting to
spread out to the rest of Texas. In fact we’re going to be in Dallas in
April with Earth Day Texas at Air Park, so we’re actively recruiting
schools outside and scaling our organization just like a start-up. We’re
scaling it so that we can handle, without adding many more staff members,
handle schools in other cities. Of course in our state is huge.
Steven: That’s right.
Carolyn: So we’re looking at how we can use technology to help us scale. How can
we do this online? We’re developing with Bazaarvoices[SP], an online
platform where teachers can actually talk to each other and network. Some
training may be available, as we do initial teacher training up front to
help the teachers then launch into their school year. Some of that we may
be able to do on Google Hangout, you never know.
Steven: Yeah! This is a nice format. Real cool.
Carolyn: Overall I would say that it’s a lot of work and not to get into it
thinking it’s easy. It is fulfilling though.
Carolyn: It is fun too, but I just think with the credibility it’s also good to
review with AFP the ethics standards, the donor bill of rights, and such.
We often see in the news that one nonprofit with credibility issues. 99% of
nonprofits are solid and well run, but that one big news story casts a
shadow within our sector. We have to be double vigilant, so if you say we
adhere to these principles, that we have accountants, follow the rules,
report to the IRS, and in our case report to the state of Texas, have all
of our certificates in place; then you’re building that credibility. A lot
of groups just jump in a little bit naive.
Steven: Yeah, definitely. Well cool, that’s great advice. Thanks for sharing
your experience. I know some people watching this may be budding nonprofit
entrepreneurs wanting to start their own. Excellent advice so check out
those resources, and check out Carolyn’s blog. She’s got an awesome blog,
she’s a great writer, so check that out. Working folks find you online,
other than Ecorise.org.
Carolyn: I’m kind of quiet behind Ecorise. I’ve started saying my work around
social media the past month or so. Personally I love Twitter, and that is
just my favorite news source. Facebook for me is a closed universe because
I actually have some donors on there, including family, and I have friends
from the high school days. So I actually don’t have the world open in
there. LinkedIn for sure, and I’ve just been amazed at the amount of people
I’ve linked up with. It’s over 500 and I’m just like ‘where did this come
from?’ So that, and Pinterest where I have a personal interest in the state
of bees, which are endangered and kind of suffering right now, along with
sunflowers which is my personal logo. Pinterest actually has a whole board
with my online links.
Steven: OK. We’ll definitely link to this in the blog post of this video.
Actually, Carolyn wrote a really awesome blog post on the Boomerang blog
about grant research and grant writing, so check that out as well. You’re
super smart; we’ll be following you, we’ll be following Ecorise for sure,
and thanks for hanging out with us for about 15 minutes. It was a fun chat.
Carolyn: Yes! Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.
Steven: Thanks to all of you for watching, and we’ll see you again next week!