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029 – Increasing donations and grants by leveraging architects with Barron Schimberg

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In this week’s episode, David interviews Barron Schimberg, an architect who has worked on multiple projects for non-profits, and he gives us his insight on non-profits have leveraged his and his team’s skills and influence to get more donations and grants.

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David: Welcome to the Non-profit Digital Success Podcast. I’m your host, David, and today I have Barron Schimberg on the show. Allow me to introduce him. Barron is an architect, lead AP, who is registered in Florida and Texas with a master’s in architecture from Tulane University. His firm has been in business for over 17 years, won numerous awards for projects ranging from residential to restaurants, and has also been featured in two books by famed retail guru Martin Pegler. His approach is called concierge architecture, where they provide ongoing architectural and interior design services to clients who have multiple projects over extended periods of time who pay them on a set monthly basis for a minimum of a one-year contract. Very similar to a concierge doctor. Their other types of clients are non-profits like Resilient Retreat, which is a 30 bed retreat for people that have experienced trauma, Forty Carrots, which is a community organization providing parenting and family counseling, and Suncoast Humane Society, which has a dog and cat shelter in Florida.

Barron is also a co author of Pancakes and Pickles, a children’s book dedicated to supporting Miracle League of Manasota, a nonprofit organization, providing the opportunity for differently abled children and adults to play the game of baseball. I brought Barron on the show because of the nature of fundraising and capital campaigns is something that your nonprofit should be considering if you’re not already doing so, because of his architecture background and working with NPOs, he has a unique perspective and insight that might inspire you. Barron, thank you so much for being on the show today.

Barron: Thank you.

David: How are you doing?

Barron: Very good.

David: A man of many words.

Barron: I actually probably do have many words. This is a, this is a first time for me and I’m looking forward to really having a conversation and seeing how we can help.

David: Amazing, amazing. So if, if you’re good to go, let’s dive in and, and we’ll get going with this. So at what point should a nonprofit consider hiring an architect?

Barron: I would say the point that a non-profit should consider hiring an architect is at that time when they consider either expanding or renovating their existing or possibly have a donor, provide them or buy a piece of property.

David: Okay. And have you, have you worked with any organizations that have been in that situation where there’s like, absolutely nothing like just a plot of property?

Barron: Yes, we have. We’ve actually worked with organizations that have either considered buying a piece of property and we’ve them actually go around with realtors literally and look at different pieces of property and giving them feedback as to whether or not that makes sense or whether it’s in a good location or whether they can even put in what they want to put in, in terms of the, the existing footprint or can they hit the parking requirements.

And then in other cases, we’ve actually had proper organizations that actually own the piece of property. They are existing in an, in another facility and they have been considering and, or preparing to design and develop a new, a new facility for themselves. So they have this piece of property and they’re trying to figure out, okay, what do we do with it now?

David: Amazing. That’s amazing. So as an architect, as your firm, right, how can you help a non-profit raise donor money?

Barron: So as an architect, we have, I think, a unique position when it comes to raising money for nonprofits at the end of the day, pictures speak a thousand words. And when a nonprofit is able to present to a potential donor or, or even as part of a capital campaign, renderings, photorealistic images, models, anything that can get somebody to be, be interested in that, in that non-profit, or get excited about that nonprofit, or get excited about even specifically putting their name on a building.

That’s where we come in. And we really not only have found that after, after producing these documents or these, these what we call collateral helps. But sometimes we actually ended up getting into conversations with the actual donor and create a relationship in that way that helps the non-profit because then, then they can put somebody sort of directly in front of them that can appeal to what they’re asking for or what they really want. And, and it gives us the ability to design them accordingly. And, and again, it’s all about just appealing to what their needs are, what their desires are and what they, what they want and what they’re willing to put up money for.

David: So you mentioned collateral, right? A lot of people that listen to this podcast are in like marketing communication roles. Like they’re very familiar with, with collateral. Can you expand a little bit more about the different types of collateral that you’ve worked with nonprofits in producing?

Barron: Sure. So in terms of what we can produce that falls under the sort of umbrella of collateral, it really ranges from anywhere from what we call a master plan. And a master plan can be anything from a site plan that is maybe just black and white, all the way to a rendered site plan, which shows the actual design on the actual property. We have one project now, the Suncoast Humane Society that is a 11 acres on an extremely treed, you know, extremely lush, extremely environmentally sensitive property that we have been able to actually take every single tree and put it on the master plan and then show how the buildings fit within that. So, so master plans fall into collateral. And then as we get further, along into the design, we can get into what the actual buildings look like. So you can get into more sketchy, more sort of watercolor, romantic drawings and renderings to photo realistic renderings, which show the name of the, of what that building is or the donor’s name or the, the, the purpose of that, of that building or the logo of the nonprofit and how it fits into the, the, the design.

So as we get further along into the, into the design and the, they reflect the phasing or the phases that we’re at our renderings and our collateral then reflect exactly where we’re at with that. I mean, when we can even, you know, right now we’re designing a donor wall or we’re working as part of the process, as part of the design for Suncoast, we are doing a donor wall. We designed a donor wall. We actually made a mock-up of the donor wall to present to them. So that is also collateral because it becomes something that people can touch and feel, and they can see, okay, I can put my name on that donor card. And we’ve actually also created 3d models of the actual building that then can be displayed in a lobby or, you know, for people to see that can also be collateral.

And I would say that the last thing that we’ve also done is, is interior material boards, which one may not think that no that’s collateral, but when somebody can, a donor, let’s say, looks at that and says, “oh, I love that fabric. Or I love that, that, that those colors or the palette”, again, it’s all about getting them excited to say, “okay, I want to put money up and I want to put money towards your, your facility”, so, or your organization. So even those become collateral.

David: In terms of working with the nonprofits and providing these collateral pieces. Do you typically get any feedback from the nonprofits in terms of they’ve seen an increase in donors or an increase in larger donors or donors that have donated, if they’re going to give, I don’t know, $500,000 or a million dollars to the charity that once they see these things, they get even more excited and want to put more money towards the project.

Barron: Yes. We often see once we create the collateral, the, the donors, many times the donors have already committed, right? So they, they have said, okay, we’re willing to put up this money for this facility. However we want to see now what, what our money’s going to and what it looks like. So when they see the rendering with their name on it, it one, confirms that that’s what they want. So I think it, it, it sort of solidifies their commitment to the, to the organization. But then also, if there are situations where the organization is, you know, needs more donors and has to create capital campaign for it, then yes, we, we, we absolutely have seen that, that once renderings are put out there and once people can see what they’re putting their money towards, they start to- they start to generate capital. I mean, and, and it, it, it’s almost, again, like I said, pictures speak a thousand words, and it’s almost inevitable that people will gravitate towards a rendering or towards what the building looks like.

And we’ve even, you know, even gives them the opportunity to give their opinion, which every, everybody wants to give. And especially somebody that’s giving money, or large, large sums, let’s say to a specific organization. So it starts the interaction and the engagement in that way that maybe they’re not necessarily putting up more money, but if you can get them engaged and thinking about that organization, then it, then it just helps in their, in their continued passion towards it. And in the continued design. And ultimately we find that design always gets better, even when, even when it becomes, you know, let’s say challenging to deal with different opinions at the end of the day. I, you know, I’m all, I’m a firm believer that, that if you make changes or if things shift, the shift is always better than the original, it, it just inevitably happens that way. That’s what often happens with these renderings and with this collateral that it starts to, to, to not only make the project better, but it also engages the donors and makes them more excited about it.

David: Yeah. And, you know, to that point, being able to engage with the donors, get their buy-in, get them, make them once, once you really see something, right? Like the Field of Dreams quote, right. “If you build it, they will come”, right. Even though you haven’t actually built anything in the physical world, the digital construction that you’ve done, the creation of those assets of the collateral creates that excitement. And it feels more real even though nothing has really like, physically like actually happened on site.

Barron: Well, and that’s where I would say the master plan really comes into play because once a building goes vertical, then almost anybody can say, “okay, I can see my name on there.”, “I can see it. You know, what it looks like, or I can understand how it feels” or whatever, but in the master plan phase, when you’ve got this piece of property, whether there’s a building on it or not, and you’re trying to figure out, you know, what actually am I going to do with this, right. Then there’s this real disconnect between seeing a piece of property and seeing what goes on that piece of property and how, and how the design of ultimately what you want on that property best helps the organization further their mission. So that master planning phase I’ve always said is the most important we can design anything, but figuring out what goes on that property is probably the more difficult part of it. And if people can start to understand, “oh, okay, I have a single building, or I have multiple buildings, or I have the relationship of the building to the parking, or if I have a solar” or whatever comes out of that, that process of master planning that in itself starts to generate interest and starts to generate donor capital campaign interest. So that they start to really, like I said, get engaged and say, “okay, I want to be a part of this”.

David: Yeah. And, you know, even having a board up on the site, like the future home of right, with a rendering behind it, people drive by, they see it, they start getting excited. There’s some talking to the community, “oh, what’s this about?” They start looking around online and that’s where like the digital aspect can come in, you know, creating a micro-site or something like that for the site, try to solicit donations through that as well. And just, you know, let people know about it, which ties in, I guess, to what I wanted to ask you next. So you’re producing these pieces of collateral, but who do you work with or deal with typically as an architect, when it comes to helping with the marketing side of it?

Barron: So as the architects, we typically immediately deal with the executive director. Okay. So every, every organization is different. So in some cases, the first person that we dealt with was really the founder. And in, in one case, she was the driving force behind the design. And she really started the process and came up with the concept. And, and in that case, that’s who we dealt with was the founder. As she grew, she started to bring on executive directors and more people on staff, let’s say. And ultimately, as the architect, we ended up working with the executive director. So that’s pretty much, you know, the, the, the, the first person, then we recommend that they always create a building committee. And whether you want to call it a design, sometimes they call it a design committee. And then that turns into a building committee. Sometimes it’s the same committee design/building committee, but we ultimately always recommend that there is a committee that can then go back to the board because there’s always a board, right?

So there’s an executive director that reports back to the board, but then there should be a committee that reports back to the board. We always recommend that we keep it to a minimum, a maximum of five people. And those are the people that we then communicate with. And again, every, every organization is different. And, and part of, I joke part of one day, I’m going to put on my business card psychologist, because I think as I start to, as we continue to work with boards and work with non-profits, you know, we find that there is a, a therapeutic part of dealing with, with boards, especially with nonprofit boards, because they are as passionate as any person gets with a specific organization, right. Versus a developer or a, you know, or a private entity, they’re a little different, or a restaurant let’s say, they’re very different boards and nonprofits have, have a little bit unique approach to everything.

So, we try to, you know, work with them and, and, and figure out what exactly they’re looking for., because they all have different opinions, but ultimately it comes down to our direct connection with an executive director, which gets us to where we really need to be.

David: And in terms of like renderings and where, where, you know, organizations should think about using them, does it make sense to like, have things online during the process, at what point in the process, when it makes sense to, to bring the project to life in the digital space, like on online, on a website, on microsite, that type of thing?

Barron: So most organizations have websites and the best time to start bringing in the collateral and the renderings and the, and the images that we create is really at a point when, when we get to a design level that is truly reflective of what they want to represent and what they want to present to the community.

Meaning there’s a, there’s a ton of time when we first start working with, with nonprofits, that there are a lot of sketches and a lot of design and a lot of images that may or may not be applicable to presenting to potential donors. But at some point you get to a, you get to a level of design that is truly reflective of what they want. And once you get to that point, then it becomes, “okay, now’s the time to present it”. The website is always a great location to do that in, mostly that applies to people that are already involved, right? I don’t know if you’re going to necessarily present to people that don’t know about the website, right? It’s not necessarily to generate new visitors to the website. More importantly, it gives them the ability to, to direct people that may not know about the website to the website, and then look at those renderings., right?

So, and we often work closely with their marketing person and in most nonprofits do have that and we present them with certain. Then you get into exactly what level of, of DPI and what level of images they need, whether it’s for a website, whether it’s for a brochure, we have helped them. We have helped certain organizations actually put together their brochures and provide them with ideas of, of how to present the information and the renderings and the images that we’re, we’re giving them. We do like to get involved on a graphic level as, as architects, not every architect does, but we, we tend to, so we enjoy that process mainly because it’s at the end of the day, again, it’s an it’s representative of our work and we want that interaction and we want that ability to help them present it in the best way that they possibly can.

So, meaning you could potentially take a rendering that may or may not look right in one way, but if you present it in this way, then, then it would generate more interest. So sometimes that is something that we do for them, but, but ultimately it goes on a website, it goes in brochures, depending on the community, it could be presented in on television. So oftentimes they, you know, we get interviewed by the local community news station about the potential, you know, about the future project and how that’s presented. If they organize a groundbreaking that’s often with news, you know, outlets are there. So a question of how that’s presented, you know, in terms of boards and on easels and how people see that we’ve even put together videos with audio in the background of an animation, taking one through the facility. So that it’s not just an animation, but it also incorporates my talking about the design.

But in one case, we actually brought on the, the executive director and let her speak also, so that it was a combination of design, but also passion and, and, and, and, you know, presenting what the, what the organization was about as part of the video and as part of the, as part of the collateral for this. So, and then that can be sent to two different donors. You know, oftentimes we find that the executive directors and or board members have specific people in mind that they want to approach, right. And they want to say, and they want to be able to go to that person or that family, or that trust, or that, you know, avenue to send them something to say, “Hey, I want you to support this, this organization.” So that becomes a question of what are you sending them? And at that point, we help to present the best possible collateral to do that.

David: Amazing. That’s amazing. I know we spoke a little bit earlier on, about, you know, having the collateral and helping that, helping organizations raise money and raise like steward donors towards donations. Is there anything else that an architect could help a nonprofit with during the construction of the building to raise money.

Barron: During the construction? Well, I think an architect can help during construction by just doing a good job of making sure that it’s being constructed quickly and on time and on schedule and the way that it was meant and on budget exactly, on budget. Now, once you’ve gotten to the construction portion of it, the budget better be, better be set, right? I mean, we don’t want, we, we, we are, well, we pride ourselves on the fact that we very rarely have big change orders unless there’s a change from the owner, right. So it’s not based on, I hate to use the word mistakes, but it’s not based on things that were missed or things that were maybe allowances or stuff. We, we, we, we tend to be very detailed and very specific in our design so that there aren’t big questions moving into construction, but, but during construction, there are often walk-throughs set up and visits set up by potential donors.

And we have given tours of our buildings before we’ve been asked by the owners or by the organization to, you know, take people through, to meet with them. You know, we also tend to support them financially during the process of construction, obviously. So, we attend and sponsor a lot of the events during construction of non-profits often, and they always have events during that process of construction, which they should. So, you know, we are often there anyway, and we enjoy going to the events and they’re all, you know, unique in their own way. And they, they, you know, some are like, we’ve been to the orchestra out in the middle of the, this incredible forest for this one event. Or we, you know, attend a gala. And we, you know, are sitting at a table with potential people that are interested.

So, you know, we become stewards sort of, of the nonprofit to represent them as we, you know, are, are meeting new people and talking about our project. So in that way, and that is, again, typically during construction, I think they, we find that that that’s what happens. And, and oftentimes we are asked to speak at, at, at the events and during construction, and again, to give tours and to talk about it. So I think all of that helps to generate interest. And it again makes the connection between the architect and the organization, and in terms of raising dollars and raising capital for that organization, it brings everything home that, Hey, this is for real, this, they have an architect, they have, they’re building this, he’s still involved, or she’s still around. So anytime you can make it more real and not just a pretty picture or, or, or just a fantasy, you know, for the future of this organization, any time, it becomes more real people, people get more, more connected to it. And, and we as architects are the front line sort of, of doing that for any project that moves beyond just an idea.

David: Yeah. So many, so many great pieces in there, for sure. You know, having those multiple touch points with big donors, mid-sized donors, it’s all very key to bringing them towards becoming somebody who’s willing to participate in the organization financially and with their time. And I think it’s really important that people, the people who are listening to this, that not specifically just about architects and architecture and building new property, or resurfacing or refacing, or any of that, you need to have that touch with, with the people that you’re going after and not just hit them up with an ask every year or every quarter or something like that. You need to really involve them in your organization in one way or another.

I think that that’s exactly what you’re just talking about, right. Having galas, meeting them, having events, bringing them through on tours, letting them touch and feel and see everything. So I think it’s really key.

Barron: Yeah. I’ve heard before architects say, and you know, every architect’s different obviously, but I’ve heard architects say, “you know, the best project is the one not built because you don’t have to worry about anything”, right. Because you just design. All they want to do is design. And I’ve never felt that way. And, and I I’m, to me, the best projects are the ones that are built, but more importantly, the ones that the owners and the, in this case organizations, you know, walk through and they just love it more because of the design and because of the architecture, because of the building and as they, as owners or as organizations, or as executive directors can get that much more passionate, which is hard to do because they are very passionate about their mission, right.

But if they can get that much more passionate about the new facility or about the renovated facility, then that translates to potential donors and they go, “huh, if they’re that much, if they’re that excited about this, then I can get that excited about this”. And wow, they must have really done something great. And this is really going to help the community, or this is really going to help their, their, you know, their, their patron. This is really going to help, you know, the person that’s gonna need this the most. So I, you know, you can’t underestimate the results or the benefit to not just doing it, but doing it in a collaborative and in a well thought out and in a wonderful designed way, because that just gets people excited. And that’s what people then want to give money towards.

David: And to that point, you know, it’s great to try to hit up private donors or corporate donors sponsors that type of thing, but there’s other money that’s out there, right?

Local state or provincial or federal grants are out there and available. How can, like, as an architect, how can you help a nonprofit try to pull in some of that government money?

Barron: Well, easily. So, so, so the way architects can help, non-profits bring in outside money, let’s say whether it’s grants or government, I’ll give you a, I’ll give you a real real example. One of our organizations, Resilient Retreat, that we have worked with over the last, it’s been many years now that we’ve been working with them. They just recently went out for a grant for a hundred, a hundred thousand dollar grant, which is a pretty substantial amount of money. And it was a very, they needed a very quick turnaround. They were putting together the, the application and they, a part of the application requirements was to create a rendering or something to show what was going to go in this place and where this money was going to go towards, right?

So within a matter of, I don’t know, a week, we were able to put together a rendering that we hadn’t done before, but, you know, we, we, we had created the model. I mean, we had enough of the design obviously together that we were able to put together the renderings to represent not only just a great design, a great picture, but also specific to that grant. So that grant was about therapy and about therapy rooms and how those rooms are going to help the community. So we put together this, this rendering that was specifically reflective of rooms that we had designed into the building and into the campus that were specifically meant for therapy and specifically meant for that purpose. And we were able to even put specific wording on the, on the rendering that appealed to, you know, certain aspects of the grant and we gave it to them and they ended up getting the grant. So, you know –

David: That’s amazing. That’s a short time. That just, that blows my mind.

Barron: You can’t get it any more specific to answer that question, right. I mean, that is what we, as architects can do, and that is ultimately what putting that proper presentation together and working with the non-profits to do can easily and, and hopefully generate dollars for, from outside of just private, you know, interest, but through grants and government.

David: That is absolutely phenomenal. There’s you just totally blew my mind, a hundred thousand dollars, like a couple of weeks of work to, to pull it together and make it happen. I’m sure it was a little bit stressful during that time to, to bring it together to, that’s probably an understatement, but yeah.

Barron: I was going to say, it’s not a couple of weeks of work. It was months and years of work. It just let us come together in that way. And, and, you know, and we, and yeah, it, it, it works. It really does. And, and, and, and, you know, look, there’s nothing, there’s nothing better from our standpoint, as the architect having, you know, sort of gone through this long process with this, with the in this particular case, the owner founder, to be sitting in a meeting and they, you know, across from the table, say, “Hey, Barron, by the way, we got that grant, like, thank you so much for putting that together. We know you had other things”, you know, they knew it was a, it was a rush, not a rush, but it was a, I had to put other things to get this package together, right. So they understood that. And, you know, and they were beyond thankful and appreciative of what we had done and for us to have done that and get that result. I mean, that’s honestly, that is about all I really want, you know.

David: That’s amazing, being able to help an organization like that who, you know, like being involved in nonprofits, it’s very obvious that it, it’s more often than not. It’s a passion of love, and there’s a reason that people are involved in it. And it’s so great that you’re able to help organizations bring that to fruition and, and help it come to life. It’s amazing. It’s amazing.

Barron: And honestly, we choose our non-profits deliberately, you know, I’m not interested in just taking on a nonprofit for cashflow or just to have a nonprofit quote unquote in the office. We choose nonprofits that we believe in that we would support whether we were the architect or not. And that gives us our own passion for the project. And it gives us the ability to feel good about what we do and, and feel good about the design and really embrace the design and embrace the people that we’re working with. And, and that’s our choice. I mean, there are other I’m sure architects or architectural firms that just do any non-profit because they just liked nonprofits. And that’s great for us. It’s, it’s a, it’s more of, you know, a little bit more personal, I would say for, for, for organizations that we believe in.

David: And it’s important, like your passion shows, like when you’re talking about these projects that you’re working on, you know, it’s important to really care about the work that you’re doing and who you’re doing it for and whatever the mission and the goal and objective is. Absolutely. Absolutely. So this has been so great. I’ve picked up a number of really great tips I’m going to take back to some of the organizations that we work with at Wow Digital and chat with the foundations on those sides. And, you know, maybe there’s some ideas they haven’t thought of.

So, you know, it’s really great. And I hope the people that are listening, hi, that you, that you, that you’re also able to take something back and maybe turn it into a positive venture that your organization can move forward with. So that’s really great. If anybody wants to get in touch with you, what do they need to do?

Barron: They can- multiple ways- they can get in touch with me through our website, which is probably the quickest. And, and there will be, I believe also, there’s, we’re going to have a little giveaway. I don’t have it in front of me, David. I hope you have, if you can say that I don’t, I don’t have it, but we’re going to put up on our website, a link to a sort of a post that just gives some information to nonprofits moving forward that are maybe considering, you know, developing a piece of property or expanding or growing.

I’ve written many blog posts on this subject. So there are, if you go to our blog, our blog, which is emptyspace.com or it’s through our website, but it’s got empty space, but, but that’s really, but our website is the best. They can always call me directly on my cell phone, which is (941) 544-7226. They can email [email protected], which is Barron B-A-R-R-O-N, at the Schim, T-H-E-S-C-H-I-M dot com. And those are the best ways to reach us.

David: Fantastic. So I am going to have a link to everything, to the website, to the, the offer that you’ve got. If you want to send over some, some specific blog articles, I can link to those two, not a non-issue at all. They will be on our show notes. So everybody listening head over to wowdigital.com/podcast, and those notes will be on there for you. So, thanks again for joining in Barron, It’s been great having you on the Non-Profit Digital Success podcast to everybody listening. As I mentioned, the links that Barron’s provided are going to be on the show notes, so just head over there. Until our next episode, keep on being successful.

Barron: Thank you very much, David. I enjoyed this very much.

David: Thank you.

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