Moving Your Mission Forward: A Conversation with Raphah Institute

Learn how Raphah Institute accomplished goals and increased funding.
Moving Your Mission Forward: A Conversation with Raphah Institute
Learn how Raphah Institute accomplished goals and increased funding.

We gathered on Thursday, January 14th for a Q&A with Raphah Institute’s CEO and Founder, Travis Claybrooks. Tricia Jessee, our Director of Community, asked Travis to share the challenges he faced in bringing his vision to life with Raphah Institute.

Your organization can find similar success to Raphah Institute’s by following the advice Travis shares below in clearly defining goals and sharing progress with staff and stakeholders. You’ll also find tips from Travis on how to articulate your organization’s vision, attract investors, and learn from your failures. A truly inspiring conversation, you don’t want to miss out on the insights Travis shared.

Laura: Can you share a little bit about what your non-profit, the Raphah Institute, does, your mission, and who you serve?

Travis: Well, first off, thank you for inviting me to be here today! Raphah Institute is a local non-profit founded back in 2017 with a mission to help communities heal from societal harm by confronting its root causes.

That's the short, one floor elevator version of what we do. We really are a platform for designing partnerships with community organizations, be they system partners or otherwise. And designing solutions to core community problems that cause harm to members of the community, and then implementing those solutions. We aren't just a philosophical institute. We practice what we think works and hope to see it replicated on larger scales.

Laura: Why did you embark on this journey to establish the Raphah Institute?

Travis: It all started during my days as a police officer, over 20 years ago. I was a police officer for only a short time, but I spent most of my time in inner city Nashville. It became apparent to me quickly that we were using policing to solve problems that had very little to do with crime. In other words, there were lots of other really core drivers to what was happening in neighborhoods and communities. For example, with poverty, there were economic challenges, there were housing issues, there were health care issues, there were other mental health challenges and addictions that were really driving behavior. And you could see very clearly that people were simply trying to survive.

As a police officer your training doesn’t help you to engage the issues at core levels, you're just there to deal with whatever law was broken and to keep order in the community. That got my mind swirling about how we confront some of the real challenges and root causes of what’s happening in the community. That was one of the drivers for starting Raphah Institute. That wasn't a one day journey, either, that was a journey of many, many years of really trying to sort out what solving those core issues looked like and meant.

Laura: I love one of the statements that you made in our earlier conversation: You and I can’t police this stuff away. I thought that was a poignant statement that there’s a new set of solutions that you really had to provide. And I think you even mentioned something to the effect that you didn’t know the language at the time.

Travis: Yeah, that was a big part of it. It was a new space for me, and I would describe it as a culture shock. Specifically, being in the neighborhoods I was in and not having been exposed to much of what I was seeing. And I knew, there are real hurts in our community that shouldn't be there. I wasn't just talking about the crime. You quickly learn that you cannot arrest, prosecute, or incarcerate your way out of the issues and challenges that are driving a lot of what's happening. So, I didn’t have clarity on the scope of the issues or underlying problems. I didn't have clarity on the definitions. So certainly, I didn't have clarity on what the solutions were and even today, 20 years later, having thought about it for a long time, I still can’t say what problems Raphah Institute solves. Fundamentally, we are still becoming, still learning, still discovering those issues and challenges, and the solutions for them.

Laura: I know the one thing that really struck me was that this has been going on for 20 years. This wasn’t something you just dreamed up in a day and executed right away, it really was a journey. I’d love to hear more of those challenges you faced – not only in starting the organization but really the ones you faced while executing the strategy you and your board members set forth.

Travis: You know when you see a challenge, or a void in a community, and you set forth on trying to solve it, it’s tricky. There rarely is a blueprint that somebody hands to you and says, do this and it'll work. There's a lot of discovery about the process and about yourself. I spent a lot of time really learning and trying to understand the non-profit sector and what the core of the problem is that we were trying to solve. One of the challenges that I had early on, and this probably is more so a function of my personality, was sharing my vision. You know, you have this idea and dream, and you hold it so close and tight to yourself. I struggled with understanding how to cast that vision to a wider group of people who could also embrace that vision and help carry it forward. I didn't do a very good job of recruiting other people to help move my mission. I acted as a lone ranger, looking to be the only person trying to conquer this mission and tackling its challenges alone. I think that had a lot to do with ego and pride and this idea of, if you want to do it right, you need to do it yourself. And it left me struggling.

That’s why it’s important to discover an adequate, effective, and efficient strategic framework for addressing the problem that really is important to you. Because the reality is, you can't do it by yourself. You don’t have enough ideas generating in your mind to be able to. It took me time to really learn and understand that.

Then, you can begin to tackle questions like: How do you cast a vision? How do you create frameworks of language to then communicate to other people in a way that it ceases to become solely yours and it becomes ours? Creating that vision – and allowing it to become a vision that belongs to us - takes a lot of work and humility.

Laura: You also mentioned in one of our earlier conversations that ClearPoint is really a vehicle for you in articulating your mission to the larger group, whether it's board of directors or your stakeholders. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Travis: When you first start off, you’re using napkins and scrap pieces of papers to write ideas out. Then, you move to white boards, and eventually you get to a place where you need a strong, structured approach to both developing and communicating your strategy. Those two – developing and communicating – really go in tandem. As you communicate with others, you get more clarity on what needs to develop and as you develop, you get more clarity on how to communicate it.

That’s one of the benefits ClearPoint provides. ClearPoint helps to create boxes, order, and sorting on shelves. It sorts out what it is that we're doing and what is is that we want to do. Yes, we have this aspirational vision and mission out there. But ClearPoint helps us see specifically what we're doing to meet those goals, helps us think about how we measure success, and the actions we need to take to meet our goals. With ClearPoint, we’re all clear on why we're doing what we're doing, and it helps us ensure our goals and objectives align with our projects and activities. Do they really define or get at those objectives and those goals? Can we really say that we've helped move towards that goal once we finish that project? We can put this information into frameworks to pass on to board members and stakeholders.

We’re still new to ClearPoint and still discovering all that you can do. But it has helped bring more clarity and focus for different portions of our organization in terms of goals and benchmarks. What are our measures for success? What are our key indicators that let us know that we have succeeded in this fuzzier aspirational language over here? How do we know that we've done that? It’s been amazing for us.

Laura: You’ve answered some of my next question on what the value has been dealing with some of these challenges and overcoming them. It sounds like you have been able to spread the word about your organization in a more effective way. Is that accurate?

Travis: Yes, and now we can strategically spread the word about our organization because everybody doesn't want to hear about everything that we’re doing. Knowing what to say to who and clarify your audience, and what you want to say to them, is key. We now have a clear understanding of the projects and programs we’re undertaking. We can target and focus the conversation on these programs, while still maintaining the conversation on our larger mission of healing communities. We now can fit these pieces together – the programs and the larger mission – to talk about how they relate to one another. ClearPoint is very helpful on that front of communication and it's also been helpful for me to sort out all the various programs we’re working on.

Laura: At the end of the day, it's all about optimally serving your stakeholders and moving your mission forward. It's all about who you're serving. So, enabling you to do that in a more effective way is really the brass ring.

Travis: Exactly. We look for key partners to help us do what we do because, we think, what we do is important and the people we serve are super important. And if a partnership does not help us move our mission better, then it's not a right partnership. It's out. If a partnership does serve that, then it's worth celebrating. And that’s what I think about this partnership with ClearPoint - it is worth celebrating. Everyone at ClearPoint helps us do what we do better. And I can see how it is going to help us in the future.

We're getting ready to head into our strategic planning retreat early next month and we used documents created from ClearPoint to help provide context on what we need to focus on as we begin planning our strategy.

This framework and these documents are everything for our partners, specifically those who give money to this organization. In this partnership with investors, we have the responsibility to deliver what we say we will deliver. We must be very intentional about what we do because they want to know their money is used well, and that it’s going to solve the challenges we’re looking to solve. That's important to them. And so being able to communicate back to them that, yes, we are doing what we promised and here's how we're doing it - that's critical. That's critical for us and very important for the work that we do in the partners that we have in the people that we serve.

Laura: I'm glad you brought up investors, because it really is such an important part of a non-profit organization. It oftentimes feels like you're just running after the money and doing anything and everything to get your organization funded and more organized. I imagine your investors are beginning to look at you even more intentionally. Is that the case?

Travis: Yeah, we’ve gotten stronger in communicating with clarity what we do and what we don't do. We know what we want to deliver and what we do not want to deliver. It helps us find those relationships that we want to pursue and helps us communicate and demonstrate our mission and how we plan to meet it. As I stated earlier, a good financial partnership needs both sides of the partnership to meet their end of the deal. Once that partnership is developed, and an investment is made, we’re able to communicate back to the investors and show we’ve kept our promise. With KPIs, outcomes, and more, we can document that we’ve delivered our end. That’s not only a benefit to the current partnership, but it also gives us leverage as we approach new financial partnerships. We can show how we’ve met goals. So, it helps a ton with retaining and recruiting.

Laura: Where do you go from here, Travis?

Travis: The truth is, we are always becoming. The challenges that face our communities, they don’t stop or take days off at any point. All the challenges we face – from economic disenfranchisement to racism and systemic disparity - continue to confront us and bombard our communities. Where we go from here is that we continue, on an ongoing basis, to try to be in touch with those challenges and continue to develop relationships and partnerships with those in the community who it affects. This allows us to continue to design and devise innovative strategies to solve these challenges. We’re always looking for better, more efficient ways to do that, and I think the work in the partnership we have with ClearPoint supports us in doing that work. That’s what’s next for us. We continue to move forward, doing what we're doing, and learning what we need to be doing.

Q&A from Audience

What is one piece of advice for somebody else who is starting out in non-profits or traveling down a similar path?

Travis: My first bit of advice is, and I can answer this without giving much thought to it, recognize that the development of you matters just as much as the development of you as a leader. The quality and the character of that organization is going to reflect who you are as a person. Never stop working on being a better human being. Getting more awareness of yourself is important. I mentioned earlier, I had personal challenges with my own character and needed to work through those things. Your organization and mission are not going to go any farther than you are able to take it, throw it, or cast it on your own. You need to learn humility to find that growth and put away the pride and ego. Those are cancers to work with. That’s my first piece of advice.

Next, do not be afraid of failure. Welcome failure. In fact, rethink failure. Rethink failure as a necessary part of the work that you do. That is what becoming is all about. It’s about trying a thing. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t. But even if it doesn’t work, you’ve learned, and you can keep getting back up.

Related to that, rethink success. Success is just your opportunity to do a new thing better. That's what that is. Do not be satisfied and assume success means you’ve arrived anywhere.

How do you go about recruiting new funding partners?

Travis: First, search out who's giving money. There are some resources out there – for example, the Foundation Directory Online is a great place to find funding and see where money is flowing from. One thing I’ve learned, if you’re doing good work and taking on real challenges, then there are other people who are looking for you. You’re not the only one looking for these investors – they’re looking for you too if you’re doing good work. People want to give their money where it’s going to be used well. To me, a great recruiting tool is doing good work. By doing that work, the money will find you and you will continue to work on your mission.

Which of your failures has propelled you forward or your organization forward?

Travis: That’s a hard question because I have a lot to choose from. I would say, on a personal note, the idea of believing that you can do it by yourself, that you can carry it forward, and that everything depends on you. That's a failed thought. Pass it away as quickly as possible and embrace the reality that a vision that may be given to you is given to you for you to share it. And figure out how to share it! I didn't know how to share it. That’s an art and a skill that requires humility. Allow your vision to be given away.

On an organizational level, my team faced lots of failures. For example, with recruiting staff – the failures taught a lot about hiring, about making financial decisions, and more. Sometimes things don’t work out. I also think it’s super important to be transparent and communicate with your team. Let your staff and stakeholders know what’s going on internally and externally. If you have a challenge, talk about it, and get it out there. The only thing worse than a failure is a hidden failure. That's when failures win, when you try to hide it. Talk about it, correct it, and move forward.

Whether it’s tips on recruiting investors, communicating your vision, or facing failure, your non-profit now has more tools in your pocket to help move your mission forward. Interested in learning how ClearPoint can help your organization organize and communicate your progress, similar to Raphah Institute? We’d love to chat with you and share how ClearPoint can help your non-profit manage. Schedule a 15 minute call with our team today!

Moving Your Mission Forward: A Conversation with Raphah Institute

Ted Jackson

Co-Founder & Alabama Native

Ted is a Founder and Managing Partner of ClearPoint Strategy and leads the sales and marketing teams.