The first thing you notice about Anne Robinson’s office is that it is the comfiest place ever. There is the constant energy of folks moving in and out, dogs eagerly greeting you and treasures from Savannah’s nonprofits all over, Newspaper clippings, thank you cards, works of art–it is clear that there is a lot of love for this person and how she helps local nonprofits continue to do what they do.
Which might be the exact reason why she started Momentum Development little over a year ago. With a background in nonprofit and city government, Robinson had crafted her skill set and began wondering how she could help smaller local nonprofits who often didn’t have the development person or department that would help them grow as an organization. What started as a conversation with Loop It Up Savannah’s Molly Lieberman, has evolved into a full service organization that offers fundraising, grant writing and support, with a list that includes clients like Savannah Urban Garden Alliance, Performance Initiatives and Savannah Riverkeepers. We were lucky enough to squeeze a bit of time out of her busy schedule to talk about how she’s been able to create a small business that’s all about growing social good.
The Creative Coast: Talk to us about what you do at Momentum Development.
Anne Robinson: In a nutshell, I put together grant proposals and signature fundraisers for small nonprofit organizations and municipalities. I fundraise.
CC: Nice. Okay, so how did you get there? You had mentioned before our interview that you worked in city government before, so how did you get into fundraising?
AR: I actually started out in the nonprofit arena. When I was 23 years old, my first job was the executive director of this great nonprofit organization—and it was an intense experience. It was fantastic. But it also, as any nonprofit person knows, so much going on and so much to do.
People that run small nonprofit organizations usually tend to wear a lot of hats. They have to do HR, they have to do programming, they have to do grant writing, they have to do grant administration, they have to appease their board, they have to work with community members. There’s a lot of things that nonprofit directors have to do, and especially if you’re more inclined towards programming, fundraising can be very daunting for some nonprofit executive directors.
So yea, I started out in the nonprofit arena, but then I moved to Savannah and I started working for local city government and got a lot of experience with housing and urban development grants, the state and federal grants that require a lot of legwork. I remembered my time as a small nonprofit director and then I looked at the expectations that went along with some of these state and federal grants and I was just like, “I don’t know how these folks do it. I don’t know how they manage to make sure that they’re in compliance with all of these expectations and do their programming.”
I kept thinking to myself, “I don’t see a lot of opportunities here in Savannah for people that are running small nonprofit organizations to contract some of that work out.” A lot of the larger nonprofit organizations have development directors. They have a staff person that’s specifically assigned to doing that job, and the smaller ones, they’re often the folks that needed that.
CC: Yes! There is definitely a perception of nonprofit work that everyone has those resources. And often, it couldn’t be farther from the case.
AR: Exactly. So in response, I started Momentum Development Solutions. I was really inspired by Molly Lieberman, who runs Loop it Up Savannah. We had a discussion about some of our experiences in the nonprofit arena, and she made a statement that really rang true to me, which was at some point in our conversation about some of the challenges that we had faced, she said, “I just don’t want to belong to anyone.”
And that really resonated with me. And she’s also pointed out things that I’ve never really noticed until now, but she’s pointed out that Savannah can be one of those cities where it’s difficult to break into existing institutions, but it’s really easy to go out on your own to forge your own path and do your own thing, and I found that to be true. I was very scared to start Momentum. I was like, “What am I doing? How am I gonna get any clients? I love doing this, but I don’t even know where to begin.” And it just started with the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. That was my first client. And we did a scavenger hunt, and it was amazing, and it was such a fulfilling experience to help, to know that what you’re doing is helping to keep people safe, and programs safe.
I’ve been in a lot of different areas of nonprofit. I’ve been in the programming, I’ve been on a board. I’ve done the whole gamut. And the one thing that really brings me the most satisfaction is making sure that people get the money they need to do the good work that they need to do.
CC: It sounds like you did what most really smart business owners need to do in the beginning, which is you identified the gaps are, and where you can meet those – and in a way that is essentially building up organizations that are really meeting their own gaps. For you, what was the leap of faith moment?
AR: I thought about some of the nonprofit events that I had coordinated in the past, and how I know that a lot of directors just have a lot of anxiety about those types of events, even though I love them. I love coordinating them, I love getting down into the dirt, and making sure that everything is in place, and I love seeing people enjoy themselves.
The other thing about fundraisers is it’s not just an opportunity to create revenue for the organization. It’s a really good opportunity to educate people about the organization, to get great press for the organization, to build community ownership in the organization. Fundraisers, if they’re done right, and you seize the moment, they serve multiple purposes at one time.
One of my favorite things to do is fundraisers and meet the goal. You know, there’s a thermometer, and it has … I’ve always been a very goal oriented person, and very competitive with myself. Im not a naturally competitive person, but it definitely gets activated because I love my clients!
But really, the leap came from lots of reflection, coupled with a conversation I had with Molly about her taking Loop it Up Savannah on its own. And that was really an inspiration for me, because I think, “This girl is 10 years younger than me, 12 years younger than me, and she’s doing it, and she’s got all the faith in the world, and she’s got confidence in what she does.” And if I think about something that I have a lot of confidence in, it is fundraising. It is grant writing, and just development in general.
CC: So what would be your advice to growing more of these people and organizations up? Whether it’s a nonprofit or a business, or whatever, how can we create more of you’s, and more of Molly’s, and more of the change makers in this community?
AR: I would say that to allow those people to fail, to experiment, to avoid any kind of compulsion to get threatened by those people. And I do see that happen quite a bit, and it’s unfortunate, because a lot of times people like that aren’t in it for themselves. They have the mentality of “If you win, I win, everybody wins”. It’s not, “I need to feel superior”. It’s not that mentality at all. And so, sometimes those people get marginalized, unfortunately, because there is this sense of being threatened.
So I would say to Savannah as a whole, embrace these people, and if you think they’re being foolish, if you think they’re doing something that’s gonna fail, let them fail. They have to do that. But embrace them, encourage them, and they’ll love you for it, and they’ll love Savannah for it, and we will all reap the benefits from that creativity.
To learn more, visit: Momentum Solutions or contact Anne at email@example.com