Every non-profit organization has a story to tell--it's what inspires volunteers, donors, and supporters to become part of that story and help advance the group's mission. But how do non-profit groups make sure the story they tell remains relevant?
For many shoreline organizations, Lisa LeMonte is the critical bridge between the mission and the message.
Telling a convincing story that people will buy is what Lisa did every day in her first career working in advertising in New York City at the end of the Mad Men era. An example of one brand positioning campaign on which she worked: remember AT&T's "Reach Out and Touch Someone"? After the advertising years, in 1990 she was tapped to work for World Cup Soccer. For four years, it was 24/7 work to plan games in nine cities in the U.S. and develop sponsorship packages for field ads and merchandising deals.
A love of boating--the boat that she and her husband Lamar own is named Picnic--brought them to the shoreline.
And 11 years ago, she was hired as Guilford Savings Bank's first marketing and community development manager. In this role--and through her own personal commitment of time and talent--she works with local non-profit organizations. She also serves as a member of five non-profit group boards, where she contributes her time and talent to help them assess and reassess the stories they tell to keep them strong and relevant in changing and challenging times.
"If [as a non-profit] you are relevant, you have a story to tell that's relevant. And that's the key to fundraising. Fundraising is not asking for money--it's telling a relevant story," said Lisa.
If that story touches people, convincing them of the organization's value, they will support the non-profit with donations of their volunteer time and money.
"My job is to know the non-profit community so that we can form mutually beneficial relationships and not just write checks. We [at Guilford Savings Bank] feel our resources can be allocated and have more impact if we know the organizations and understand their missions and needs," said Lisa. "Over my 11 years here, the bank has let me construct this new position. I am so proud of the bank that they are bold enough to invest in a full-time commitment to developing non-profit relationships."
Amidst news of still more cuts to federal and state grant funds, non-profit organizations more than ever need the professional advice and advocacy that a strong volunteer leadership board can provide. All non-profit boards need members who can contribute their professional expertise in disciplines like finance, accounting, marketing, sales, and even facility management and operations to a non-profit's paid staff--but finding these members willing to devote their time and energy to this effort can be difficult.
"Everyone is concerned with board development. It's hard to build a pipeline of volunteers who believe in your mission, will get involved and will serve on a board. It's also a challenge for non-profits to find board members with specific skills," said Lisa.
She finds the time she devotes to serving on five non-profit boards to be rewarding and important work.
"I like the diversity of the [non-profit] organizations and I like the business of non-profits. As a board member, your only obligation is to leave an organization better than when you joined it. You've got to give back to your community," said Lisa.
LeMonte said that each of the non-profit boards on which she serves has a mission that speaks to her personally in some way. Whether it's health and wellness, affordable housing, arts education, cultural enrichment or history, each group tells a story that's relevant and important to her. Currently, Lisa serves on the boards of the Valley Shore YMCA, HOPE Partnership, The Kate, the Connecticut River Museum, and Community Music School and as corporator on the Board of Corporators for Middlesex Hospital. She's currently chief volunteer officer (CVO) at the Y, a position akin to chairman of the Board of Directors.
She also sees value in serving on more than one board because sometimes, this can spur collaboration between the groups.
"There are commercial condos in Centerbrook that were struggling with occupancy. Because I was on the board of both the Community Music School (located there) and HOPE Partnership, I saw a need and a solution that could bring them together. The option now under review is to make the site mixed use with affordable housing apartments and the music school and perhaps retail there. It's very exciting to connect the dots," said Lisa.
Similarly, she spoke of The Kate's Camp for Kids. This is a popular summer youth program that is a collaboration between the Music School and The Kate, with each sharing in the revenues, helping both to improve their bottom lines while also providing a valuable service to area youth.
As with many committed volunteers, Lisa's parents modeled for her the value of service to others. Her father was a member of civic clubs and served as president of the board of the Girl Scouts of South Carolina. Her mother's service was as a nurse. Through Lisa's job and her many personal hours of volunteer contributions, she provides a model for another generation.
Lisa says that her mother was a gifted pianist who modeled for Lisa the value of discipline. From age 5 through high school and college, Lisa took lessons and practiced to perfect her skills as a classical guitarist. In high school and college, she added folk guitar to her repertoire. When younger, she applied her skills and discipline also to be a competitive golfer.
Those days may be behind her, but in front of and ahead of her is a life strengthening non-profits so they can succeed--and oh yes, perhaps a return to the classical guitar. If she takes that path, you can be sure she will apply the same dedication, energy, enthusiasm, and perseverance that she's applied to guiding non-profits to success.