Jessica Ticus is Winning Workplaces’ Director of Development. In this interview she discusses the benefits for small businesses that join us in promoting positive people practices as well as the challenges in fundraising today.

Tell us about your background, Jessica.
I earned undergraduate degrees in environmental science and education at Antioch College in Ohio, and then a master’s degree in school administration from Loyola University in Chicago. Over 20 years I worked in several nonprofit institutions in Chicago, including the Shedd Aquarium and Children’s Memorial Hospital. Before joining Winning Workplaces, I was director of major gifts for the Chicago Botanic Garden, where I helped complete a $100 million fundraising campaign.

What brought you to Winning Workplaces?
I had an interest in being a part of an organization that’s entrepreneurial in nature. I also thought helping small and midsize businesses is a cool idea. I wanted to be part of building an organization that’s just getting started – the other places I worked were already established institutions. I also wanted to work for an organization that understood that employees are the most important ingredient for sustainability.

Your responsibilities include growing Winning Workplaces’ network. What benefits does a small business receive from being affiliated with this network?
I think that what goes on in most small and midsized businesses is invisible to the rest of the world. When they do something well and good comes out of it, whether it’s happier employees or increased profitability, that publicity is good for them. That’s part of what we’re about. An example of this is IRMCO, a local manufacturer of water-based lubricants for the metal-stamping industry. CEO Jeff Jeffery’s employees feel different than their peers in the manufacturing world because IRMCO’s leadership has taken the time to realize and recognize that the front-line workers who do the daily production work should be involved in the decision-making process.


Read more about IRMCO’s approach to teambuilding using open-book management

So part of what we do for small businesses is to shine a spotlight on their positive people practices. In other words, they serve as the model of good business and we provide the stamp of approval. The goal for this network is to have it perpetuate itself by having these organizations that operate the same way promote themselves and spread their good ideas and practices to other businesses. Then more and more companies and the public will see that it’s not just one quirky company doing these kinds of things – there’s a whole growing movement.

You’ve said that “fundraising is networking.” What are the similarities between the two?
Fundraising starts with telling a story, or educating people. The goal is to get people to identify with what you’re doing both intellectually and emotionally. Finding like-minded people becomes the networking component. Ultimately it comes down to helping people feel better about themselves – you try to empower them to make a change, and when they do they’re incredibly grateful. It taps into the human desire to do good; it’s not just about money. Look at Bill Gates: Some people could look at his increasingly charitable role as just giving away money, but he’s really addressing huge global issues, and making an impact toward solving them. That’s got to make him feel great.

As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Winning Workplaces depends on the generosity of individuals and entities to fulfill its mission. What can other nonprofits do to create effective fundraising programs?
You have to have a good mission; one that works. Donors are becoming savvier about the effectiveness of any program or cause they put their money toward. They want to see that you’re addressing what you’ve identified as your mission. Also, nonprofits need to be able to fill a need. Sometimes they don’t fully evaluate the market. They can be wrapped up in the founder’s vision. And nonprofits still have to be good businesses. This includes having a business plan and a good administration.

I think nonprofits can spend too much time focusing on the “heart” and not on the “head.” They should concentrate on becoming effective at implementing their passion. When they do this well, both the heart and the head are addressed.

How do you see the resources available for fundraising and the prospective donors changing in the next few years?
Fundraising professionals are seeing that the grants that are available are going to fewer organizations – those with well-established networks. Getting in with foundations is harder to do. Foundations have established strict funding guidelines, and the money that they do provide is increasingly geared toward specific projects with measurable outcomes, versus covering general operating expenses. I’m finding more and more that annual gifts are now used to cover operating expenses. Also, government funding is harder to find.

Nowadays, individual giving is where most funding comes from. This speaks to the charity of the American public, which has not wavered. Americans are very generous – most of us probably give as high a percentage of our wealth as Bill Gates. We just don’t happen to have as much money. In my role, I get to witness that generosity, and it feels good. People give money because it makes good business sense, but they also give because they care.