There was a time when one could be forgiven for thinking that “next up” might refer to NextUp RVA’s fundraising strategy. NextUp, originally born as Middle School Renaissance 2020, provides structured out-of-school-time (OST) programs targeted at middle-schoolers in the Richmond school system with the goal, says Executive Director Barbara Couto Sipe, that “Richmond’s youth will thrive in school, at home, and in the community.”
Originally funded by corporate support, NextUp years ago identified a more diverse and sustainable funding model as one of the keys to the organization’s financial health. To meet this goal, NextUp made the reasonable decision to hire a development officer. In fact, it hired more than one. The organization cycled through several development officers in several years.
“We were clearly missing something when it came to our approach to Development,” says Sipe. “We needed to hop off the hamster wheel and find something that pushed us forward.”
That “something” was the Monument Group (TMG), and Sipe realized it even before the engagement was formalized. “They were very tailored in their approach,” says Sipe. “Rather than fitting our organization into their process, the Monument Group built their proposal around our unique needs.”
As the two organizations were getting to know one another, Sipe recalls, “I realized they are very selective in the clients they take on. They were interviewing me as much as I was interviewing them.”
The two organizations kicked off their work in early 2018. “We are in the business of providing our students with the resources they need to be their best,” says Sipe. “TMG was the resource we felt could help us be our best as an organization.”
TMG’s scope of work, led by TMG partner Alan Hutson, had both tactical and strategic components. Tactically, TMG slotted in as a fractional development resource to support NextUp’s immediate funding needs. Strategically, TMG conducted in-depth interviews with staff, board members, and key community stakeholders. “They took the time not only to ask questions but to listen deeply,” says Sipe. “The understanding they gained of NextUp was evident in the scope and spirit of the report.”
TMG’s report was thorough and detailed, laying out not only a strategy but specific steps to implement that strategy. But a plan is only as good as the team that implements it, and that is where the partnership between NextUp and TMG really proved its value. Amanda Macdonald, a senior TMG consultant who worked alongside Hutson on the engagement, says it was that teamwork that breathed life into the plan.
One key finding targeted fresh thinking in areas outside of the Development office. TMG identified opportunities to engage everyone at a leadership level—including the ED and board, to put their best talents to work around fundraising. The organization had grown up thinking of fundraising as primarily the purview of the Development office. Based on TMG’s feedback, Sipe saw an opportunity to put her considerable skills to work leading fundraising efforts, and Hutson coached her as she combined her passion for NextUp’s mission and her expertise in out of school time programming to carry the message to donors.
“Alan’s coaching was invaluable,” says Sipe. “He helped me develop both the science and the art of fundraising.”
Macdonald credits the board with responding enthusiastically to TMG’s work, as well. “They recognized the value in putting their best talents to work supporting fundraising,” says Macdonald. “They thought more personally about their relationship to NextUp and began to open even more doors.” Doors through which Sipe has adeptly stepped. “She has solidified these relationships into a solid base of financial support,” says Hutson.
Meanwhile, in the Development office, TMG implemented systems and processes to provide the technical platform needed to support the increased fundraising activity.
The results? NextUp exceeded its fundraising goal for the first time in 2018, and then again in 2019—by nearly 20%. In addition, in 2019, when an unexpected opportunity arose to expand NextUp’s program into an additional middle school, Sipe, the Board, and TMG executed an impromptu funding campaign that raised over $700,000 in support of the expansion.
When COVID-19 struck in the spring of 2020 and NextUp had to pivot its service delivery model from in-person to online, Sipe’s team quickly selected a portal platform to deliver its programming, and TMG assisted in helping identify funding sources to offset the cost. But even then, TMG’s foresight helped NextUp to be ahead of the game.
“Alan and Amanda actually came to us in December of 2019 with concerns about potential changes to the economy,” says Sipe. “We had done scenario planning and were already beginning to manage an interruption when COVID hit.”
This robust COVID-19 response reflects the power of a well-executed partnership between NextUp and TMG.
“NextUp has proven what’s possible when an organization takes a solid plan and changes its culture to turn that plan into reality,” says Macdonald. “They are able to adapt to meet any challenge.”
Of TMG, Sipe says, “They brought years of consultative experience to our organization, but their work is relationship driven. The strategies they brought to us built on the foundation of who we are as an organization, and we have been successful implementing them because we operate as a true team.”
NextUp has clearly gotten off its hamster wheel and is running full speed ahead, which is a great thing for Richmond’s middle-school students. The best thing they can have in their drive to thrive is a thriving NextUp supporting them on their journey.