Kids volunteered to decorate Thank You envelopes to MHC donors.

Pandemic Takeaways: Matthews HELP Center Builds Partnerships

In Strategic Planning by lisavgray

First in a series of conversations with Charlotte-area nonprofit execs about
the pandemic takeaways making their organizations stronger

Matthews HELP Center Executive Director Sandra Conway
MHC Exec Director Sandra Conway

Matthews HELP Center (MHC) offers short-term crisis assistance to families in the Greater Matthews community. Clients get help with housing assistance, childcare, transportation, groceries, school supplies, and much more. A big source of revenue for Matthews HELP Center is Backporch Treasures, its onsite thrift store. MHC has been a Matthews stalwart since 1979.

MHC was up and running hard throughout COVID-19, with drive-up food pantry and tele-social work. Executive Director Sandra Conway sees lots of pandemic adaptations that will have long-lasting positive impact for the organization.

Weave Corporate Partnerships into Community Events

Pre-COVID, MHC’s corporate partners were looking for more meaningful events engagement. Says Sandra, “They said ‘sure, we’ll sponsor the golf tournament, and what else do you have?” Corporate partners were looking for ways to work directly to advance community goals.

MHC has long prided itself on its 100% community-supported Back To School Supply Drive. But this year’s school-supply drive will also feature a corporate partner. While sponsorship planning is still underway, Sandra fully expects to include onsite activation during the family-focused cook-out event, as well as sponsor-branded items in the backpacks and printed materials meant for parents. “Our corporate partner wants to increase the impact of an event that supports families and children,” notes Sandra. This Social-Good alignment is just what her corporate partners are asking for.

And Sandra predicts excellent return-on-investment for the organization too. Community-driven events require tremendous outreach and organization – comparable in staff time to staging a major fundraising event. But the community impact of the school-supply drive far exceeds what the nonprofit can expect to achieve with any pure-fundraising event. Sandra is convinced the ROI for this sponsored community event will reshape how MHC plans future events.

Show New Donors They Are Valued
Kids volunteered to decorate Thank You envelopes going out to Matthews HELP Center donors.
Hand-decorated Thank You envelopes

Like many crisis-assistance organizations during the pandemic, MHC received an outpouring of support from donors – including many new-donor gifts. Sandra and her development director, Susan Ross, are intent on engaging these new donors and keeping them in the MHC family post-pandemic. One inexpensive-but-delightful change: they engaged kids (volunteering from home) to decorate the envelopes for gift thank-yous. This unexpected connection to MHC families so impressed donors that many sent an additional gift right away!

Launch an Online Store

MHC’s thrift shop, Backporch Treasures, is an important revenue-generator in the organization’s business model. Sandra has long wanted to launch an online store, and during the pandemic, the time was right. After dedicating six weeks of a staffer’s realigned job duties, MHC launched its online store on July 6, 2020. Sandra says it only took 5 months to pay-off that investment. MHC’s online inventory is focused on high-end items, and the average online transaction is $100.19. For comparison, the average transaction in the Matthews store is $14 – a number that is also up significantly over the last year.

Prep for Gifts of Stock

Like many a nonprofit exec, Sandra feels she has not done enough to support planned giving, bequests, or gifts from donor-advised funds. During the pandemic, MHC received two gifts of stock, and the organization opened its first brokerage account. “Each of these gifts was the equivalent of what we make from a golf tournament, so that got our attention!,” laughs Sandra. Now MHC’s online donate page includes plenty of information about how to make these gifts, and staff is poised to help donors through any process they choose.

Although you may be rushing to “re-open” your nonprofit as quickly as possible, I hope you and your senior staff can assess pandemic-motivated changes for their long-term strategic value. If planning isn’t your strong suit, I’m here to help!

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