From Chef Ron Ahlert, executive director of the Community Culinary School of Charlotte:
In my job, I get stretched pretty thin wearing many hats and keeping costs down. I know other nonprofit leaders suffer the same battle fatigue, particularly as we must increasingly compete for limited charitable dollars. As a consequence, many of us dont pay enough attention to the look, feel and way we tell our stories and that hurts our cause and the very people we aim to serve.
Community Culinary School of Charlotte recently had the privilege of participating in Goodstock, a 24-hour marketing marathon hosted by Luquire George Andrews to benefit area nonprofits. We were selected, along with A Childs Place, KinderMourn, Junior Achievement and Carolina Waterfowl Rescue, and assigned a team of professionals for 24 hours to help us better position ourselves and communicate with potential students, donors, volunteers and the public. The experience not only opened my eyes to the importance of telling our story well it also gave me a renewed sense of mission.
Community Culinary School of Charlotte has been around for 15 years, but no one on our Goodstock team had ever heard of us. They had no idea we operate a nonprofit, nondenominational culinary school and professional catering business that equip our students all of whom have experienced barriers to employment with the expertise to work for Zebra, Red Lobster, Harris Teeter, Myers Park Country Club, Compass Group, Pasta & Provisions, and other organizations that regularly hire our graduates. They were blown away when they learned our students receive 450 hours of culinary instruction and pay tuition by preparing more than 700 meals daily, delivered as Friendship Trays to Charlottes homebound and hungry, as well as providing food to thousands of others in need. They also were impressed that nearly 90 percent of our graduates obtain jobs after passing the National Restaurant Association exam and receiving their ServSafe Sanitation certification.
After meeting with us, and reviewing our materials and website, they told us something we needed to hear that the caliber of our organization, staff and students, and the good we do in the community, do not shine through. Then they helped us see new ways to represent ourselves by updating our messages, website, brochures, even our name.
We rely on grants and donations as well as our full-service catering business to raise the money we need to operate our school and that doesnt include funding for our dreams of expansion. But its hard to raise money if people dont know who we are or what we do.
Goodstock gave us direction I want to pass along to nonprofits with similar challenges:
• Find a communications expert or agency willing to listen and evaluate the way you present your organization.
• Ask them to serve on your board to help guide your efforts.
• Boil down your story to whats most important and understand that less is more.
• Realize your website and marketing materials represent who you are and aspire to be.
• Remember everything you say and do creates an impression.
Im jazzed about new possibilities for our students and organization. I see new ways to attract supporters as we illuminate how our school moves people off the dole and onto the payroll. You cant imagine what a chefs jacket can do for someones self-esteem, and on the way to earning it, our students feed the hungry in our community and in their own homes. Thats a story worth telling.