In these days of tight budgets and a limited pool of available philanthropic dollars, nonprofits need a crisp, clear, and compelling message-one that grabs peoples’ attention and clearly demonstrates the purpose and foundational basis for its work.

Donors want to give to agencies with a clear mission and a focused approach that is based in reason and, if possible, hard data. Well, I recently met with the executive director of such an agency.

IdaLynn Wenhold is the executive director of KidsMatter, an organization dating back to 1995 helping Naperville’s youth deal with an assortment of teenage destructive behaviors.

Summarized, its mission is to equip youth and families with tools to manage the stress of everyday life through dynamic school and community programs, practical education, resources and recognition. And, it does so with a very streamlined structure with virtually no red tape or process to get in the way of its good work.

Research developed by The Search Institute, in Minneapolis, MN provides the key to KidsMatters’ work. This research found three “stressers” to teens’ lives:

  • Competition
  • Over-involvement
  • Perfectionism

The Search Institute found that the best way to help teens avoid these problems is to implement the experiences and qualities it found that minimized the chances of those destructive behaviors surfacing in the first place. Proactive, preventive measures…

In all, there are forty areas of behaviors or experiences that combat the three “stressers”.

KidsMatter offers many educational opportunities directly to parents and teens to learn about these experiences and serves as a connector to other resources for additional assistance.

It also shares its preventive information with service clubs, churches, and other organizations. KidsMatter wants everyone to know the cause of most forms of teen troubles and how to combat them.

KidsMatter is the facilitator and member of an informal yet important special interest group called the Collaborative Youth Team. This team is comprised of 5-6 other local organizations that also serve the youth, and about 12 other stakeholder organizations. They all share and collaborate to be sure that there are no “gaps, traps, and overlaps” in their program offerings.

Finally, KidsMatter sponsors programs and educational opportunities to get the word out.

For instance, it sponsors a Job Fair each spring and a Teen Volunteer Fair each Fall to help teens get engaged in the local community (which attract over 2,000 teenagers each year).

This agency has a terrific story to tell. Its’ primary work is founded on empirical evidence and it freely collaborates with like-minded agencies to be sure they all are serving local youth as best they can…even before today’s economy demanded such collaboration.

Nonprofits can learn a lot from KidsMatter:

  • Are you collaborating with similarly focused agencies to avoid those “gaps, traps, and overlaps”?
  • Do you offer empowerment services so clients can learn to help themselves-something many donors find attractive?
  • Does empirical evidence support what you do and that your practices will help alleviate your clients’ problems?
  • Is your agency streamlined and nimble or is it lumbering and unable to move effortlessly and effectively?