Nonprofit Small Shop Success with Rachel Bearbower

Episode aired Dec. 2, 2020: Small Shop Success

As a former small shop Executive Director, Rachel Bearbower of Small Shop Strategies understands how tough it is to do everything on your own. The stress, frustration and being underfunded can be overwhelming. In this episode Rachel discusses

  • 2 methods to survive and not drown
  • why culture is critical to thriving 
  • planning, setting goals and learning to prioritize
  • creating a comms plan where you show up consistently and 
  • what it’s like to be a farmer-in-training!  

Below you can listen, watch or read this podcast episode.

Ephraim: Welcome to this edition of the Your Weekly Dose of Nonprofit Podcast, the podcast that delivers actionable items you can implement at your organization right away. I’m your host Ephraim Gopin of 1832 Communications. Today I’m really happy to have with us a nonprofit strategist and small shop coach, Rachel Bearbower. Rachel, how are you today?

Rachel: Hey, I’m great. I am so glad to be chatting with you.

Ephraim: I’m thrilled to have you. Let’s introduce you to our listeners, watchers and readers.

She’s a coffee lover, fundraiser, former ED and a founder, a podcast lover and prides herself on being the dog mom with the good treats. Rachel Bearbower is an executive coach living in rural Iowa and is passionate about creating meaningful relationships, maintaining an upbeat attitude and serving alongside those she leads. She’s a risk taker, she believes in large post-it notes to detail out your vision, the mantra ‘done is better than perfect,’ creating systems to allow you to work smarter not harder and despite the hard work, being passionate about your work each and every day.

Like many of us, she too has been in the trenches of an underfunded, limited resource, system-less organization and the stress, overwhelming frustration it can cause. Let’s just say she’s scrappy or you know resilient and resourceful. Rachel is the one people turn to for system structure and a freaking plan and when all these are in place, she promises you’ll have more time to serve those who mean most to your organization and raise the funds needed to keep moving your mission forward.

When Rachel isn’t popping in on Instagram Stories or coaching small shop EDs, she’s living on a farm where she’s a farmer in training. She has three naughty pups and six acres of land she needs to mow before her next Zoom call.

Small vs. Large Shop

In today’s episode, we’re going to discuss small shop survival and thrival. Yes, that’s a word I made up. Let’s dive right in. Rachel, we’ve both been CEOs of small shops. We’ve both worn too many hats. What are the pressures the CEO of a small nonprofit faces that a CEO of a mid-sized to large organization wouldn’t have to deal with?

Rachel: Well, when you’re a small executive director- not necessarily small- when you’re in a small shop and you’re the executive director, you are likely charged with doing a little bit of everything and so that’s hard to become an expert in any one area. You just have to dive in and be good at everything and that’s tough. When you’re in a larger organization, you probably have employees. I know small shops, every once in a while, you get an employee a key volunteer that’s amazing but so often all of that pressure, all of that responsibility is on your shoulders and that’s a lot to handle. Those larger organizations, they can delegate stuff out, no big deal. Whereas if it doesn’t happen it doesn’t happen and you just have to learn how to prioritize and focus on what is most important. 

Methods For Small Shop Survival

Ephraim: Excellent. So given the pressures that they face at small shops, let’s split this next question into two. So first of all, when you work with small shop CEOs, what advice or techniques do you employ to help them simply survive and not drown?

Rachel: Good question. I’ve got three things for this.

The first one is you want to have an annual plan that is based on what is bringing in the most revenue and is easiest for you to implement. So I have an example of this: We’ve all heard of the fundraising activities where you can go to… okay, back in the day, you could go to a local pizza shop and you know everyone who came in that night to buy a pizza and the organization gets 10% of the proceeds. So it’s super easy to market that. You’re like, oh yeah, that’s easy cash. Okay. What I want you to think about is: you have 10 families. Each of those families spend a hundred dollars. That’s a thousand dollars that has gone out the door in one night. But if your organization is only getting 10% of that, that’s a hundred dollars. So wouldn’t it have been easier just to ask 10 people for a hundred dollars and gotten that full thousand dollars?

My main thing is taking a look at your annual plan, figuring out what’s going to bring in the most revenue with the least amount of effort. Working in a small shop can be… you are pulled in a lot of different directions, like we were just talking about. So making sure that where you are spending your time, you are bringing in the most return on an investment. That is number one.

Number two: goal setting. That is one of the most important pieces of being a leader of a small shop organization. You want to make sure that you know exactly what you are working towards. If you are just kind of playing whack-a-mole and doing whatever is right in front of you, you’re not actually gonna get a ton accomplished. So I recommend that you pick one to three goals and make sure that whatever you are doing on a daily basis aligns with that goal and that will continue to help you move your mission forward and know that you are on the right track. And the third one… I don’t think I actually had a third one. It’s those two.

How Can Small Shops Thrive

Ephraim: Perfect. So now that we got that half done, they’ve started moving towards survival, they’re surviving. How about the next stage? How can small shop CEOs manage more effectively and move into thrive mode, where suddenly there’s a little bit more money to expand, hire new workers and serve new people and more people?

Rachel: You know, I think what that actually comes down to is the culture of your organization. No matter how you grow and when you grow from a small shop to a large organization, the culture of your organization on day one is incredibly important. So what kind of environment are you creating? Do your employees feel supported? Do you have the structure in place to support them? Are you compensating them well and fairly? Are you hiring people from diverse backgrounds, communities, abilities? That culture that you set is going to amplify as you grow. I think that it’s important to set that culture from day one, so then as you grow, you have a really strong foundation and the problems that were maybe little problems when you are a smaller organization, do not amplify to be really really big problems as you go.  

Elements Of A Communications Plan

Ephraim: Yeah, avoid the big problems. Let’s move on to today’s actionable item. As the digital landscape is constantly changing, what three to four elements need to be included in a nonprofits communication plan or strategy that will help them grow their online following and ultimately convert people into donors?

Rachel: Showing up. You gotta show up. It’s so easy to get into the weeds of like, well, I have to do this little project and I have to get all of these names into my donor database. What needs to happen is you have to show up and you have to show up consistently. Your donors, your potential donors, your program participants, your volunteers, they are going to show interest but then it’s up to you to show up consistently and build that trust and it’s only when that trust has been built that it’s going to lead to conversations and those conversations are going to lead to an ask. So it starts if somebody shows up and they’re like, hey, I’m digging what you’re doing here. It’s up to you to start building that trust and that trust happens by showing up consistently. 

So I guess I have four ways that you can do that. I think it’s figuring out… social media is a great and free way that you can put your organization out there, but if you’re not showing up consistently or you’re just showing up every once in a while. And this goes with your email. I send an email out and it’s been awhile, I always get a ton of unsubscribes and then I’m like personally offended that all these people have unsubscribed and I’m like, what did I do wrong? The reality is you didn’t do anything wrong. We’re in a culture and an environment where unsubscribing is just part of what we do. But by showing up consistently, people are like oh yeah, she’s showing up. I know what she’s doing. I know who this person is. It’s not a random email that you get once every four months.

First things first I would figure out how can you… how many times a week can you show up consistently. So for social media is that every other day, is that three times a week, what is it that you can do consistently. Just figure that out. It doesn’t have to be every day. Don’t start and think that you are going to post seven days a week. That’s not realistic because then if you fall off, you’re like oh great, now nobody knows who I am again. Schedule your time into your calendar right now, that is if you are planning to show up consistently. Consistency takes a plan, so put it into your calendar. Make sure that you have the time.

And then this this one is what I find one of the most important things: Have your five core messages that you are telling people over and over and over again. So what I mean by that is, you want to keep your content focused, so that anytime somebody pulls up your social media, they know that you’re talking about the same five things every time. By doing this, they’re going to know that ten dollars feeds a family of four and that your coat drive is constantly happening.

You have these core messages that I think… we’ve all heard that somebody needs to hear something seven to 10 times before they take an action. If you are all over the map on what you’re telling them, they’re not gonna remember any of that. They need that same message seven to ten times.

I guess the fourth thing is don’t overthink it. That feels so simple to say but don’t overthink it. Done is better than perfect. You said that in my bio that is one of my core values. Don’t let your best be the enemy of the good, because I promise, one wonky social media post or email is not going to destroy your organization.

I can tell you a couple months ago I sent out an email. I write everything into Google Drive and then paste it into my email service provider and Google Drive did not save any of my edits or changes. So I wasn’t really paying attention and plopped it right into my email service and hit send. Boom. I got a message from one of my friends and she’s like, what are you trying to say here? The email was awful. It was awful. I’m still in business, things are still okay. You will be okay if you send a wonky email. Don’t let your best be the enemy of the good. I think it’s important. So all four of those.

The Appeal Of Small Shops

Ephraim: Excellent. You coach and do strategy work with small shops. What about small shops appeals to you more than larger nonprofits?

Rachel: I’ve been there, you know? I kid you not. I started my organization and I said the line, can’t be that hard to start as a nonprofit. And I have to tell you I am so grateful that I was so naive and so overconfident, because if I would have had any clue about how hard it was to start and run an organization from scratch, I would have never done it. It would have never happened.

It’s the scrappiness and the determination and the resilience and the risk-taking that small organizations do on a daily basis. I know that when I was an executive director, I was always frustrated. I was like, there has to be a plan, there has to be this roadmap, somebody just tell me that I am on the right path. I can figure this out but just tell me that I’m on the right path. I want to be that support system. I want to be the one that’s like yup, this is your guidepost, you’re on the right track, keep going.  Being overworked, underfunded and frustrated is not a way to live your life. The work that these small organizations are doing is crucial and is so incredibly important and they need to be supported and I want to… that’s why I am doing the work that I am doing.

Let’s Learn More About Rachel

Ephraim: Love it. Let’s move on to the lightning round and learn more about you. What happened… well you alluded to it just a second ago, but what got you started on your nonprofit career path?

Rachel: Well I was in finance and I was like, this is horrible. Quit my job, moved across the country and said it can’t be that hard to start a nonprofit. And then I did and it was hard and here I am now. 

Ephraim: Wow, from finance to nonprofits. Okay. If you could shake up one thing in the nonprofit world, what would it be?

Rachel: The idea of overhead. That makes me so frustrated, how we’re still having a conversation that humans are overhead. That is not okay. That terminology needs to be eliminated. And let’s stop minimizing the work that nonprofit front-line workers are doing, because it’s not okay.

Ephraim: I absolutely 100% co-sign on that answer. What’s it like being a farmer in training?  

Rachel: Well it’s a very important job and I spend a lot of time holding things. I have spent a whole summer really working on my professional development and I have… holding things is a very important job. But I worked really hard this summer, so I have been upgraded to hooking things up. So you know, it’s harvest for us right now and I am now able to hook up the big wagons to the big tractors.

I’m originally from Washington state. This whole thing, this whole farming is just not something that I am familiar with and my partner and  I, I call him ‘BFM’ boyfriend Mike, we moved to Iowa to take over his family farm and it’s been a really incredible experience and you know so I hope that just that experience of being a farmer in training, just like you’re an executive director in training, we’re all learning something new all the time and you’re gonna make mistakes and  you’re gonna have really silly jobs like holding things and hooking things up but it’s part of the bigger puzzle.

Ephraim: That is amazing. On a scale of one to ten, how much do you enjoy using Instagram Stories to update people on both your personal and professional life?

Rachel: Oh my gosh I love Instagram Stories. Okay, you have your feed  which lives on forever and then you have Instagram Stories that give you an opportunity to share glimpses of your life that are just…they’re fun and they’re silly, because I think sometimes you forget, if you’re a coach or a nonprofit or  whatever, you have to be on message and on point all the time and real life never happens. Real life happens all the time. So I think Stories are great to share that and storytelling is one of the key aspects of a successful organization and a successful business because people relate to people. I think Stories are just a great way to capture that storytelling in just a really easy and thoughtful way, that you don’t have to put too much effort into.  

Ephraim: So you like clarity, structure and a freaking plan. What do you do for fun in your unplanned time?

Rachel: I’m a farmer. What is this fun time you talk about? No, I love cooking. It’s my happy place, it’s a sense of like… I find calm in the process of chopping vegetables and I am an absolute master at creating meals from the random stuff in the fridge that’s going bad. If I’m mad or I’m frustrated, I definitely rage bake. I’m not a good baker, so oftentimes I forget an ingredient or add like a tablespoon of something instead of a teaspoon. So be careful with the rage baking but it’s also cathartic. I also love to run. I used to be an ultra marathon runner, trail runner but now I’m mostly sticking to the gravel roads and the cornfields. I go with no music and I just let my mind wander and it’s where the good ideas come from.

Ephraim: Amazing. I’ve never rage baked but now I may have to find out what that’s like just once.

Rachel: It’s good.

Ephraim: It’s gotta beat punching a hole in the wall, that’s for sure. That’s good. Lastly we will turn the tables. You ask me one surprise question. I have no idea what’s coming in advance. Go ahead.

Rachel: Oh my gosh. So I know that you are in Israel and we’re just talking about food. I love food. I love trying food from all over the world. So if I were to come and visit you, where will you take me and what should I order?

Ephraim: Oh wow. Okay. So Israel is actually now known, in the last couple years, as a culinary destination. There are people who literally…. there are literally people who come over from Europe for the weekend and they will go on Friday to two restaurants, Saturday to two restaurants and Sunday to two restaurants and fly out Sunday night to go back home to Europe. That’s the first thing.

The second thing is Israel, because it has so many people from so many different parts of the globe, every single continent is represented here, so you can go for any cuisine that you want. You can go for regular European cuisine to Middle Eastern. You can go for as spicy as you want, you can go for dairy or meat. You can go for… I’m just trying to… there’s just so many.

So where would I take you to eat? That’s the problem. I don’t know where to start necessarily and where we’ll end. The one place I would take you if you’re willing to basically not put any worries into any pounds you might gain, then we’re good in Jerusalem. There’s a main market and it is especially on Fridays, where everything is baked and fresh, I will take you to the best bakeries and we will sit and eat pastries for a couple of hours. The best pastries that exist and then we’ll go restaurant hopping within that market, because there’s a whole area of restaurants there and we’ll maybe go to a bar or two or three because they’ve got a lot of good bars with excellent beer and excellent wine.

Rachel: I love this.

Ephraim: If you’re willing to take the full day tour and like I said, not worry about the weight gain or anything like that, we’re there.

Rachel: Give me all the pastries. I am into it.

Ephraim: I love it. Fine. I’m happy to all the pastries with you. Thank you very much for appearing on the podcast. Please connect with Rachel for sure on Instagram at @SmallShopStrategies. She is amazing there, especially with Stories. Or you can also connect with her on LinkedIn at Rachel Bearbower. Rachel, thank you so much for being here. I appreciate it.  

Rachel: Thank you so much. I loved being here.

Ephraim: A pleasure. Have a great day.

Rachel: Thanks so much.