What I Learned at the Classy Collaborative: What to Do When Your Mission is Hard to Communicate

I joined the nonprofit community at the 2019 Classy Collaborative! This conference was a great opportunity to learn from experts, and connect with some awesome organizations face-to-face. Looking for a conference to attend next year? Early bird tickets are on sale now! Keep scrolling to hear what I learned at When Your Mission is Hard to Communicate: How One Nonprofit Reinvented their Approach and Raised $1 Million.

La Jolla Institute for Immunology

La Jolla Institute for Immunology (LJI) is a medical research institute located in California that, like all nonprofits, relies heavily on donations to fulfill their mission.

The Problems:

The biggest fundraising challenge the institute faces is that their mission is difficult to communicate. This can be broken down into two main problem areas:

1. No Solid Donor Base - LJI is a research institute. This means they have no solid alumni group, patients or volunteers that act as committed donors. The challenge is then educating and inspiring people to become committed to the cause.

2. Long Timeline - The important research being conducted at LJI takes quite a bit of time to complete. This means donors aren’t able to be around to watch the results play out. LJI needs to again work to educate and engage potential donors to get them involved.

The Solution:

Kelsey Dale, the Deputy Director of Advancement, worked to create a unique and engaging challenge to garner the attention of new, committed donors. This is how the SPARK program was born. This program gives researchers the opportunity to compete for a grant in a “shark tank” style pitching environment. This fun, easy to understand format brought previously internal competition, external. This helped to gather a group of new, committed supporters to the cause.

Key TakeAways:

The SPARK program was, and continues to be, successful for several reasons:

1. Shorter timeline: Supporters no longer need to wait until LJI finds a cure to feel involved with a full story line. The SPARK competition allows people to feel involved from start to finish; from the pitches to selecting the grant recipient.

2. Fun and easy to understand: Everybody is a fan of shark tank, so this unique initiative garnered interest from a wide range of people who wanted to get involved. These previously difficult to understand research ventures, became more easily digestible for the average person with SPARKS’s format.

3. Includes smaller donors: Donors love to feel like their contributions are making a difference. The $25K goal is small enough that each donor can feel the direct impact their making to the cause, and because of the shark tank, it’s easier to gain a full understanding of the research that will be completed.

*Check out this tool that helps donors see the impact their donation has towards a lager goal

4. Includes larger donors: LJI has several larger donors, and they wanted to ensure this group did not feel isolated from this new initiative. SPARK actually ended up allowing larger donors to fund an entire research program, which makes them feel even more invested in the cause than before.

Check out this video to learn more about the SPARK program at LJI:


Another note from the Collaborative…

The Collaborative gave nonprofits the opportunity to write down their thoughts and feelings on being a part of the sector. I snapped a couple pictures of some inspiring words!


If you have more questions about nonprofit strategy you can always reach out to the DipJar fundraising experts for help. It's what we love to do!