tara-robinson-mafApplications for SPIN Academy 16 open today!

SPIN alumni return to their organizations with new skills, exciting ideas, and a network of fellow change makers. SPIN alum Tara Robinson, Chief Development Officer, Mission Asset Fund fills us in on how SPIN training impacted her work and talks about an exciting current project.

You attended the SPIN Academy in 2013, can you share a little about what you’ve learned and what you’ve been up to since?

Before you start talking, you need to know who you are. Sometimes nonprofits tell stories that aren’t very good simply because they’re trying to talk in some made-up disembodied voice that is supposed to represent their nonprofit. But nobody actually talks like that. Most people try and try to do this, and the resulting story is totally unrelatable and dare I say it? Boring. You can’t afford to be boring in this business because your words and your stories are what keep you focused on thriving instead of worrying about being alive.

I came to SPIN with a draft of a 5-year look back booklet that was important for my organization. We wanted to tell the story of what we’d done in five years. But as I sat in SPIN, I realized I had it all wrong and I madly started redrafting it. SPIN created lots of “aha” moments, but there was one specific epiphany that threw me into a major panic.

My organization started out working within just one neighborhood in San Francisco, but we had come a long way since then. We were working to provide social loan programs to people all over the U.S. and we were doing it through partnerships – an idea that combines a marvel of technology and innovation. And so, of course, I wanted to include a section on partnerships in the booklet. But I’d written it in the disembodied voice and it was super boring.

So during SPIN I realized – it’s the voice that’s the problem. I didn’t know what to do – where do I find a voice for the organization, how do I make sure that voice is the right voice? I didn’t know where to start, but I knew that we shouldn’t be afraid to have a voice. So I thought, we’ll write a story from the perspective of one of the nonprofit partners we have, and her words will be the voice of the story.

And do you know what? The things she said on the phone to me during our 15 minute interview have come back to help us tell stories more times than I can count.

Since then, we not only published that booklet, but we’ve gone through a total organization rebrand with amazing UX designers Digital Telepathy with two new (awesome!) websites, a first time ever annual appeal campaign, a marketing plan (with actual metrics!), and two new marketing staff.

How did lessons and/or connections from SPIN Academy influence your professional trajectory?

Sometimes people get confused by what I do because at my organization because we think about fundraising and marketing in the same breath. So my title communicates that I’m a fundraiser to the world, but I spend a lot of my time thinking about content, marketing, team process and storytelling. So I would say SPIN influenced my personal trajectory because it allowed me the space and time to step back, refine my communications skills and take a larger look at what we were doing. It prepared me up for an intensive rebrand process in a way that I don’t think anything else could have.

 What’s a current professional project or challenge that has you excited these days?


My organization is currently a finalist in a huge tech philanthropy contest hosted by Google. 1,000 nonprofit organizations applied to the Bay Area Impact Challenge and there are only ten finalists and Mission Asset Fund is one of them! From May 22nd to June 2nd at 11:59PM PST, we’re running a campaign that leverages technology, storytelling, the rebrand, and our relationships.

From grassroots efforts (tabling at Mission’s Carnivale) to a highly networked approach of engaging our best supporters and allies in spreading the message, we have a great shot at winning this thing. Just imagine – a few years ago, we were just a San Francisco nonprofit with some visionary funders. Now, we’ll be known across the world.

This is a huge moment for us and we’re just thrilled (if a little stressed out at present). So please #VOTEMAF at Bitly.com/VOTEMAF to help us expand credit opportunities for hardworking families in the Bay Area!

You’ve recently done a refresh and rebrand of your website, what tips do you have for nonprofits that might be considering similar projects?

Start with who your audiences are and get the right people in the room. Because when you find the right people who are smart, who understand how people interact with websites and brands, you may find yourself changing have to change what you want.

You might be in the habit of talking about something one way or presenting information on your website in one way, but it might turn out that the way you’re presenting it is actually alienating the people you’re trying to target. So don’t be afraid of doing something new.

We gave our designers a lot of leeway when it came to our website and we worked as partners in co-creating the new iteration.

What are your tips and/or experience with integrating storytelling into your communications?

You can be sneaky with storytelling. It doesn’t have to be all “success stories” all the time, where so and so is facing a hard time and your organization magically fixed it. You can use images, icons, photos with a text caption to tell a story.

You just need to be sure you are taking all the pieces together to tell a cohesive story that makes people want to know more.

That’s key, I think. Is telling stories to whet appetites and build intrigue – not to explain everything ad nauseum.

Photo courtesy of  Mission Asset Fund
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tara-robinson-maf-cropTara Robinson is Mission Asset Fund‘s Chief Development Officer and encourages you to apply for SPIN Academy 16 – a long weekend of intensive strategic communications skills-building, networking and knowledge sharing at beautiful Walker Creek Ranch in Petaluma, CA.