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Transforming CURE from the Inside Out

GCN member CURE Childhood Cancer, an Atlanta-based nonprofit cancer research foundation dedicated to finding cures for childhood cancer, knew they had to make some major changes in order to effectively carry out their mission. In a recent conversation, executive director Kristin Connor and board chair April Voris shared highlights of the organization's "inside-out" transformation over the past three years.

"We wanted to transform CURE from more of a grassroots organization to a much more professional, sophisticated, higher-impact organization," says Kristin Connor, Executive Director of CURE Childhood Cancer.

The process began in 2006 with a successful growth pattern that resulted from CURE's inaugural annual campaign; but, as Connor observed, this was only a start. At a point, "we realized that we had captured the low-hanging fruit," acknowledges Connor, who recognized the need "to dig deeper and gain a better understanding of how to really do annual fundraising right." They made a major strategic shift, moving away from an emphasis on special events to focusing on major gifts. A development audit conducted in 2009 formed a critical step forward in clarifying direction, but left Connor and her board without the capacity to move from plan to execution. A GrantsPlus coaching grant from the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta enabled the organization to push forward.

They made a major strategic shift, moving away from special events to focusing on major gifts.

CURE tapped GCN Consulting Services and partnered with consultant Cara Schroeder, who worked closely with the executive team and board to provide hands-on training. Connor credits the process of "literally walking us through an entire fiscal year of major gift and annual campaign fundraising, step-by-step" with providing CURE with the breakthrough it needed. Through one-on-one and group coaching, staff and board learned the "how-to's" to systematically and strategically approach the process. Board members were trained to solicit donations through personalized appeals—which, with the help of scripts to allay intimidation, proved a successful tactic.

The results speak for themselves: In 2010-11, CURE received 69 new major gifts and 640 annual gifts to their annual campaign.

The organization then chose to hire its first-ever Director of Development, a department that has now expanded to a 3-person team.

A Brand Makeover

Another transformation instrumental in building CURE's fundraising capacity is a rebranding, led by board president April Voris of Guest Relations Marketing. The "before" image of CURE was "a pink teddy bear, unprofessional documents printed on a home computer, and a low level of professionalism." The "after" is a transformed brand "built from the bottom-up" that reflects CURE's mission and vision, while resonating deeply with CURE's core audience: families of children with cancer.

Identifying those who are passionate about CURE's mission—our "zealots"—explains Voris, has been the key to developing effective branding and marketing strategies.

Identifying those who are passionate about CURE's mission—our "zealots"—explains Voris, has been the key to developing effective branding and marketing strategies. An early adapter of social media, CURE recognized that a Facebook page not only offered their constituents a place to build a community of supporters, but could act as a story-telling platform. The momentum grew quickly. Voris cites CURE's Kids Conquer Cancer, a fundraising initiative they launched during National Childhood Cancer Awareness month, with a goal of raising $30,000 online. Over 30 days, 60 families were honored and the momentum grew quickly, eventually raising $170,000.

CURE's marketing program continues to grow from the inside-out through an overall marketing philosophy, which Voris explains is much like a "spider web approach," each piece is interconnected and strengthens the others. "Your customers take the lead on how they want to interact with your brand," says Voris, "so you must be prepared to engage and accept them from all points of entry." Reflecting on the journey, Connor and Voris offer some insight to fellow nonprofits with similar challenges. The first steps toward positive change? "Really looking at ourselves"; honestly evaluating core competencies; and asking both "where are we needed?" and "what do we not need to be doing?"

CURE Childhood Cancer has been instrumental in serving the children and families that depend on timely research. Through a transformation on the inside, they have been furthered their ability to transform lives on the outside.

Breauna Hagan is Communications Coordinator at the Georgia Center for Nonprofits..

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