Nothing beats a good success story, and Partnership for the Future has had plenty of them. Since its founding in 1994, PFF has helped thousands of high-potential students of limited means by matching them with training and educational opportunities that prepare them for success beyond high school. Over 99% of these students have gone on to study at places like the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, and University of Richmond. Furthermore, PFF alumni have gone on to make meaningful impacts in their professions, from doctors to lawyers to community health coordinators in Africa.
And yet, in 2012, armed with 18 years of success stories, PFF was struggling to raise the money it needed to ensure that it helped even more students break the cycle of poverty.
“We had a lot of success but it wasn’t reflected in our fundraising,” recalls PFF CEO Charleita Richardson.
PFF engaged The Monument Group to assist with grant applications and management, but Charleita began asking other questions. “Mostly about why we had so much trouble hiring good Development Directors,” Charleita recalls with a chuckle.
TMG partner Alan Hutson quickly realized that PFF already had the solution to its fundraising problem, and that solution was Charleita. Charleita combined charisma with a deep knowledge of the program and a storytelling gift. “We thought Charleita had all the tools to be a great fundraising CEO,” says Alan. “And once we presented the concept to her, she stepped into it with gusto.”
Instead of hiring another Development Director, PFF expanded the TMG engagement to address the overall fundraising strategy. Alan and Gillian Lugbill led TMG’s work, with Alan assisting Charleita and the PFF Board to build a more formalized fundraising strategy, and Gillian working to deliver that strategy by employing the power of the stories PFF so desperately wanted more people to hear.
“Gillian knows our language,” says Charleita. “She captures my ideas and synthesizes them so that all our messaging reflects our common themes.”
Individual giving rose 400% in the next few fiscal years. Board giving increased by a factor of seven. Indeed, the entire Board reconstituted around fundraising, with Board members giving generously and, armed with Gillian-supplied talking points, opening doors in their networks.
In 2017 PFF completed an ambitious three-year strategic plan, and propelled by Charleita’s fundraising prowess, met most of the plan’s objectives within a year.
The PFF-TMG relationship has evolved into a true partnership, with Alan often accompanying Charleita on important fundraising calls. “I want him at all my meetings if possible,” says Charleita. “He hears things I might miss, and he can bridge any gaps that need bridging. And Gillian just knows what I’m thinking sometimes before I speak.”
“We challenge Charleita,” says Gillian. “And she challenges us. We are always asking each other the question, ‘What’s next?’”
Sometimes “what’s next” is something unforeseen by everyone. In the spring of 2020, it was the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. And while PFF, like many other nonprofits, quickly pivoted to a virtual services delivery model, TMG immediately began not only ensuring that donor relationships continued in on-line settings, but also presenting Charleita with budget scenarios that took into account many of the unknowns of fundraising in an economy damaged by COVID’s impacts.
But as challenging as the situation was, it also highlighted one of PFF’s success stories. Nikita, a PFF alumni, graduated from VCU and now works as a medical laboratory scientist. Her job? Performing coronavirus testing. Testing that is not only vital to individuals seeking medical care, but also to our society in general, as it is people like Nikita we will rely on to provide us with the information that will be critical to re-opening our economy and managing the spread of the disease.
And that is the very definition of partnering for the future.