4 Lessons Nonprofits Can Learn From The Next Food Network Star’s Top 4 Finalists

For the past several weeks, twelve talented chefs, home cooks, and culinary experts have competed to be The Next Food Network Star. One by one, hopeful “stars” have fallen, and tonight’s episode showcased the final four survivors. During the first part of the show, each of the final four had to film a short 30-second promo, explaining their show concepts to viewers.

Aside from my obvious “foodie” interest in this show, what I love most about it is that to be successful, contestants must clearly define and continually refine their “culinary point of view.” That is, they must clearly communicate and answer the following questions:

  • What makes you unique?

  • What makes you an expert?

  • Why should I watch your show?

  • Are you relatable and engaging?

It got me thinking about my other passion: nonprofits.

As an increasing number of nonprofits compete for fewer and fewer resources, I believe there are valuable lessons our sector can learn from The Next Food Network Star’s final four candidates and their promos, and possibly help us better define and refine our own "nonprofit point of view.”

Here’s a recap of the four finalists and lessons learned:

#1: Nicole Gaffney – “My Coastal Kitchen”

Nicole’s “point of view” promised to share and teach culinary insights from growing up in a family of commercial fisherman in coastal New Jersey. Her promo, however, discussed global coastal cuisine, and the network’s judges were slightly confused and thought it was too broad. They asked the extent of her global travels, and she explained she had not actually traveled that extensively. Lesson Learned #1: BE A LOCAL EXPERT!

Unless you are an international nonprofit/non-governmental organization (NGO) whose mission is to end world poverty or global hunger (good luck with that), most nonprofits are addressing local issues. Be the best at what you do in your community. Show that you know how best to solve your community’s issue, whether it’s domestic violence, feeding the elderly, educating underserved children, preserving local natural habitats, or whatever. By being an expert solving an issue in your local community, you should garner more attention from local media, which in turn will help you attract more donors and volunteers.

Also know that because you may be an expert in addressing your community’s issue, what works in your city may not work in a different part of the country. Many nonprofits seem to be eager to replicate and launch “their model“ in another city hundreds, or even thousands, of miles away. Be warned! Make sure you conduct a professional needs assessment in any market that you are planning to replicate your model before you launch the venture. Do not assume that the needs (and therefore your solution) are exactly the same in another city.


#2: Sarah Penrod – “The Lone Star Kitchen” Sarah struggled over the season to clearly define and articulate her point of view. She started the season with a show concept of cooking for a date. After a few weeks, that morphed into trying to connect that she’s from big bold Texas and cooking for her two kids. Ultimately, she failed to clearly and concisely articulate her vision. She has a big personality, but in the end, the network felt she lacked authenticity.

Lesson Learned #2: BE AUTHENTIC!

Don’t try to be whom you think the community, the foundations, your volunteers and donors, or the general public think you should be. Be very clear about who you are, the challenge or opportunity your organization sees in your community (the need), your solution and reason for existing (your mission), how you see the future after successfully applying your solution (your vision), and why you are the best and only one to solve that problem now.

In fact, all of this information should be in a written document called a Case for Support, and should be the basis for all of your organizations’ fundraising communications.

Having a written Case also helps defend against mission drift, when an organization creates programs in order to chase funding opportunities. Mission drift is a sure fire way to be perceived as lacking authenticity, ultimately creating confusion and diluting your message and value for your supporters.


#3: Luca Della Casa – “Luca’s Feast” Luca was eliminated from the main competition after only a few weeks, but persevered in the separate online Star Salvation competition, and won the right to re-enter the main competition. He took his initial setback to heart, worked hard to continually seek feedback and improve, and kept a positive attitude throughout. It may just make him The Next Food Network Star.

Lesson Learned #3: STAY DETERMINED DESPITE SETBACKS! We all encounter setbacks and roadblocks to our success: we get declined for a major grant or funding opportunity for which we thought we were a shoe-in; a carefully cultivated major donor declines our seemingly thoughtful and perfectly timed solicitation; our major competitor receives a multi-million dollar bequest and all of the media coverage that accompanies it; and the list goes on and on.

Don’t let those setbacks define you. Regroup, refocus, and believe in yourself and your point of view (mission). For example, ask: “What can we learn from the foundation that declined our proposal so that we can improve our chances in the future?” Yes, you can and should call the foundation’s program officer and ask! Very often they are happy to discuss why your proposal was not funded that year, and if they felt it had merit, may potentially discuss how it could be improved for the future.

When faced with a setback, remember: be humble and willing to learn from your mistakes; choose to view any setback as a learning opportunity; seek constructive feedback; and continually improve and grow.


#4: Lenny McNab – “The Gourmet Cowboy” Throughout the competition, Lenny seemed to have a pretty clear point of view, sharing his past experience cooking on a chuck wagon for cowboys and his promise to modernize and elevate cowboy cuisine. During the 30-second promo, however, Lenny babbled and stammered, and the network noted how he seemed very tense and stressed.


How many of you have a clear, concise, and compelling elevator speech prepared for your organization? Hopefully, at a minimum your executive director and development director do. But is everyone on your staff committed to this? How about every single member of your board – your key ambassadors? What about volunteers? Is everyone (or anyone!) even remotely saying anywhere near the same thing when out in the public, or do you even know?

Being able to succinctly articulate your nonprofit’s mission and value in a compelling and engaging way is not easy, especially if you have not prepared or practiced doing so. But trust me, committing a fast pitch to memory is critical and could reap huge benefits in a variety of settings.

Imagine you’re at a networking event, and finally get a few seconds with a foundation officer you wished would invite you to send a proposal, or with a corporate leader you always dreamed would join your board. You only have 30 seconds… no pressure!

If unprepared, who knows what you might say, or even worse, you freeze and avoid the opportunity altogether. Wouldn't you prefer to confidently engage and persuade your listener to want to learn more or to take some action? Having prepared and rehearsed your fast pitch can make all the difference in the world.

Crafting and practicing an elevator speech is a great exercise and team building opportunity for your staff, board, and volunteers! Have fun with it, perhaps even setting time aside at meetings to share recent situations that you got to use your newly refined pitch and how the audience reacted. I guarantee that over time you will be celebrating success after success recruiting new supporters for your cause.

So hopefully these lessons learned from the four Next Food Network Star finalists, when applied to your nonprofit, will send each of you well on your way to being your community’s next nonprofit star!

As to who will be The Next Food Network Star? You’ll have to tune in this Sunday, August 10th to find out. Actually, you can do even better. You can help determine the winner by participating in online voting and social media sharing on the Food Network's website.

Wait! That reminds me of a critical bonus lesson learned that should also benefit every nonprofit:


Is your nonprofit using social media? Facebook? Twitter? Pintrest? LinkedIn? Google+? Blogging? What about Crowdfunding? If so, which are you using and how? More importantly, do you know why you are using each one and do you have a strategy or written social media plan to guide your efforts? If your organization is not clear about how and why you are using social media - whether to raise awareness, recruit new supporters, deepen relationships with existing constituents or yes, even raise money - you’re a bit behind the times.

In fact, if your organization doesn’t have a written social media plan or strategy – or even a clue where to begin – you might consider seeking some expert advice.

Consider sending a message out to your volunteers, perhaps one has some expertise to share. There are also numerous books, blogs, and webinars helping nonprofits navigate the ever-changing social media landscape.

Whatever you do, don’t put your head in the sand and hope it all goes away, or delegate it to an intern who will only be there for a few weeks. Like it or not, social media is here to stay and you need to be fully integrating it into all of your communication and donor relations plans…

...and to be sure, the next nonprofit stars are using it to their full advantage!

by: Derek Floyd / Writing for Good - Advancing your mission through grants and more...

#foodnetworkstar #nonprofits #fundraising #storytelling #mission #vision #caseforsupport #authenticity #determination #elevatorspeech #socialmedia #missiondrift #foodie #foodnetworkstar #foodnetworkcom #writingforgoodorg

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