Written on April 14, 2015

By: Michelle Sanchez, Warren Averett 

The WEDU Be More Awards were created to pay tribute to the many unsung heroes in the Tampa Bay community. WEDU is Tampa’s leading PBS station and public media company. Each year, the awards program celebrates the human spirit and showcases the area’s best work by nonprofit organizations. Warren Averett is a proud sponsor of the WEDU Be More Awards program. At the awards ceremony in February, High Risk Hope (HRH) took home the Be More Unstoppable, Nonprofit Organization of the Year award, as well as the Be More Entertaining, Special Events Award.

A few weeks before the program, I had the pleasure of meeting HRH’s Executive Director and Founder, Heather Barrow. I was overcome by her joy and passion for HRH. Heather was just 24 weeks into her pregnancy when her water broke and she was admitted to the hospital. Due to the high risk nature of her situation, she was required to remain hospitalized on bed rest for the duration of her pregnancy. Thanks to an excellent medical team, prayers, and the support of loved ones, Heather gave birth to a healthy boy, Hill, at 32 weeks. HRH evolved out of Heather’s desire to encourage others facing similar circumstances by bridging the gap between their fear of losing a child and the hope of leaving the hospital with a healthy baby. HRH has become an unstoppable movement in the fight for preemies thanks to hospital partners, dedicated volunteers and loyal donors.

I recently sat down with Heather to talk with her about her success, and to learn what advice she has for other emerging and growing nonprofits. Below are my questions and Heather’s responses.

Tell me a little bit about the award for Special Events, and what you think set you apart from other organizations that were nominated in this category?  

The special event award was for our High Risk Hope Baby Calendar. We used to include plain calendars in Bed Rest Baskets for pregnant woman on hospital bed rest and also in NICU Napsacks for the families of premature infants in the neonatal intensive care unit at Tampa General Hospital and St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital. Calendars help parents keep track of the baby’s progress, document items such as eating, surgeries, milestones and accomplishments. We later decided to turn it into more of an inspirational calendar. In 2014, the inaugural HRH Calendar Baby contest was launched in Tampa. Thirty-seven families with NICU graduates nominated their child in an online voting competition. It was a huge success; we received over 35,000 hits to our website in three weeks for the online voting contest. The children who received the most votes were included in the calendar. This was a great way to inspire our patients and to integrate both our patients and funders in our process. Anyone can look at the calendar and see a before and after picture of the children and be inspired on the progress that these children have made.

What would you tell others who want to begin a nonprofit?

First, it takes hard work. Behind any award is years’ worth of hard work. Everyone involved in HRH has put their heart and soul into it. I went into this blind, just thinking I wanted to help people. Most companies start that way, with one person and an idea. You have to think if they can do it, why can’t I? You can learn along the way and build a successful organization. Second, don’t be afraid to take risks. Also, don’t be set back by defeats along the way. For every award we’ve won, we’ve probably lost two. Furthermore, don’t accept no as no forever; it means no not right now. You also have to be able to recognize those people and things that don’t align with your mission and be able to move on. Third, be passionate. If you are passionate, people in the community will be supportive and get behind you. Finally, don’t knock yourself down. If you start thinking of all the things that may go wrong, you may be so scared of defeat that you don’t go for it.

What are some of the best practices/lessons learned that you can share with other organizations?

Operating as a business is key. Focus on the bottom line at all times, and pay attention to everything you are doing and make sure it aligns with your mission. You should be trying to maximize your impact – operate with the head of a for profit and the heart of a nonprofit. Being transparent is also a key. Donors and funders should be able to go to your website and be able to find your financial information. We have a link on every page of our website to download our Form 990 and our audited financial statements. We want to be accountable to each donor regardless of the amount that they donated (people find this unusual), as small donors today may be big donors tomorrow. Align with the right people and always find the best people to do the work – select the A team (can mean people with passion, people with unique skill sets, etc.). To improve donor retention, be good stewards over your donations. This applies whether you have been in business for 1 day or for 30 years. We recognize a $25 donation in the same way a $25,000 donation is recognized, with a hand-written thank-you note. Some organizations quickly write this off as labor intensive, but if someone took the time to donate, you owe them recognition and appreciation. Finally, be supportive of other nonprofits in your community. If there are other organizations that ask for her guidance, I always try to help. There is no way that we could individually reach every person that needs help, so we are happy to guide others in getting their nonprofit going.

What do you see as your greatest challenge moving forward?

Figuring out how quickly we want to grow. The awards have presented us with an incredible opportunity to grow. We have to replace the fear of growing too quickly with excitement about this new increased growth potential. With growth, we need to make sure we are staying within the mission. The reason we are impactful is because we have a very focused group of constituents and a finite list of services we provide to them. We will not mold our mission to align with potential funders and donors; we need to stick to where we were headed before we won the awards.

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