Determining Their Cause: Uncovering One Nonprofit’s Potential

The Challenge

In response to economic hardship in their hometown of Berwick, PA, Josh Nespoli and two of his brothers wanted to raise money for their community. Leaning on his experience as Community Outreach Manager for nonprofit Cradles to Crayons, Josh suggested organizing a 5K—but not just any 5K: he wanted to recreate the organization’s Santa Speedo Run in Boston. “The city had an amazing time, and I brought it back to my brothers and I said, ‘We need to try this. If any town would understand the absurdity of running around in December wearing Speedos dressed like Santa, it would be our town,’” he says. The brothers agreed, and Berwick’s first Santa Speedo Run debuted the day after Christmas in 2008. “With no planning, we raised over $10,000, and we realized that we’d tapped into something,” Josh says. “And we thought, ‘What else can we do?’”

We came out of there with a mission statement, a vision statement, a five-year strategy, and the three primary buckets where we could categorize the work that we wanted to do.

Collaboration over Competition

The brothers started organizing events like runs and crazy golf outings, each benefitting a different local cause. Before long, they had a budding nonprofit called, fittingly, For The Cause. “We wanted to do not-for-profit differently,” Josh explains. “We were really concerned about donor fatigue and the way that small communities like ours approach funding. It’s very transactional; there’s no relationship, there’s no experience. Should-be collaborators are naturally competitors for the same funds, so our approach has been collaboration over competition.” For The Cause also emphasized philanthropy that gave Berwick experiences, memories and stories.

For The Cause did well.  So well, in fact, that within four years, they had caught the United Way’s attention. “The United Way was helping run a food program to provide local students with meals on the weekends. This program was primarily one individual just making it all happen, and the United Way asked us to help him get a little more organized and help grow. But at the time, it was just two of my brothers and me, and for us to be able to help, they required us to grow our board and get a little more organized ourselves,” Josh recounts. “So that’s where Beth came in.”

Creating a Plan for the Future

Again tapping into his experience with Cradles to Crayons, Josh contacted Beth Saunders. Beth had designed the customer relationship management (CRM) system that had supported Josh’s work in community outreach at Cradles to Crayons as well as their fundraising and volunteer management. Josh remembered how Beth listened to the everyone in the organization. “What I saw during that process was Beth’s ability to pull information from people to make sure the organization got the information it needed,” he explains. “She then consolidated that into a format that we could understand and read and prioritize—and wasn’t a jumble of feedback, but a plan.”

From that experience and conversations the two had had about organizational leadership, Josh knew Beth could guide them through this stage of growth. “That’s where I really wanted her to guide us; to make sure that we were protecting both the integrity of the organization while keeping it from relying too much on the founders.”

A Welcoming and Effective Process

Beth and Josh planned a mini-retreat for the board, which had grown from the three brothers to eleven members. At that retreat, Beth created an atmosphere where even with three founders with strong personalities in the room, everyone could share their thoughts in a safe, comfortable manner,” Josh recalls.

Beth led the nascent board with worksheets and brainstorming. “She facilitated conversation and made us focus to identify what themes were there—the areas where we were interested in working,” Josh says. “We came out of there with a mission statement, a vision statement, a five-year strategy, and the three primary buckets where we could categorize the work that we wanted to do.”

A Sustaining Presence

After working with Beth, For The Cause quickly went on to coordinate the school food program with the United Way. Guided by their vision, mission, and core interests, the nonprofit has since evolved from an on-the-fly organization into a sustaining presence in Berwick. For The Cause’s work with Beth “gave us credibility,” Josh says. “Through the conversation with Beth, we had a language to describe who we are, what we do, why it’s important, and how we’re going to approach it.” Building on the success of the food program, For the Cause was awarded $110,000 of start-up funds to build a teen center; it opened in 2017. For its part, For The Cause continues to evolve and grow.