Dress for Success Columbus gains a new understanding of its clients and donors

The training made volunteers more compassionate, understanding and sensitive to the situation because it was relatable to their experience.

“It helped those people who want to do good and they want to do the right things, but often times they’re disconnected with what’s happening day-to-day in poverty. It helped them build a bridge of understanding that these people are really like me,” Bowen Hewes says.

The new approach helped bridge a gap that people just don’t talk about.

“Good intentions can do a lot of good when they’re framed the right way,” she says.

Meeting the demand

Like many nonprofits, Dress for Success Columbus struggles to increase its revenue to match the demand for services. Over the past several years, Bowen Hewes has worked to diversify that revenue.

“When we first launched, my main focus was having corporate stakeholders. It was really important to me that we engaged those retailers that are headquartered here in Columbus,” she says.

Bowen Hewes wanted to sustain the organization through corporate contributions, fundraising and foundations, but that model ignored an important group.

“As we have grown, what we have learned is we’ve left out this significant, sustainable revenue stream of people who come to our organization and they donate clothing, but they don’t write a check,” she says.

Over the past 18 months, Dress for Success Columbus has had conversations with those passionate individuals — people who drive an hour just to donate clothing.

“They were never asked for a financial contribution so they didn’t think we needed it,” she says.

It doesn’t help that the location’s high-end boutique feel doesn’t look like it needs funds. It’s different than going into a food pantry

“I’ve got to look like I could rock an interview every day because if I’m not looking that way how are we communicating that to the women that we serve,” Bowen Hewes says.

The organization integrated a customer relationship management system to better understand its donor base and have transparent conversations with them, while building engagement. Dress for Success Columbus also will use the CRM to track client progress and communicate that to the community for annual campaigns.

It’s a delicate balance to allocate resources between donors and clients, Bowen Hewes says.

“If you don’t have any donors, you can’t have the mission. But if you don’t have any clients and the clients don’t feel as if they are heard and they are not getting the services they need, then they’re not going to come back,” she says.