Orchard works to build systems and processes that will help our Partners bridge gaps in their organization in order to serve more effectively. We do this in four main ways: Strategically, Operationally, Individually and Spiritually. One part of our Operational Strategy is our Foundations Curriculum, offered through the Orchard Institute. Dean Oliver, Orchard Partner and Executive Director of the Georgia Worship Choir, recently graduated from the cohort. He shared with us how Orchard has helped him grow!

Please introduce yourself and tell us about the work you do. 

My name is Dean Oliver and I am the Founder and Director of the Georgia Worship Choir. We are a community choir of diverse Christians who are united by their common love for Jesus, and who are passionate about creating worship experiences that inspire people to draw closer to Him. Basically, we’re a church choir for people whose church doesn’t have a choir. We are not associated with any one particular church, but will be partnered with many throughout Metro Atlanta who will want to help us share the gospel of Christ through music. 

How did you initially hear about Orchard and what compelled you to apply to become a Partner? 

Several years ago, at a networking event, someone mentioned to me the Lead Institute as a training resource for non-profits. Though I didn’t have a non-profit at the time, I sensed one may be in my future. When the time came to start GWC, I tracked down my note and made contact with Lead, which I learned had merged with Orchard. Though I had had non-profit experience as a church leader, I had never started a non-profit, so I knew I would need all the help I could get. It also helped to learn that all the training would be available remotely, and would not require my presence in a seminar or classroom. That’s a huge plus for those of us who have multiple responsibilities and full schedules. 

Describe your experience with the Orchard Institute Foundations curriculum.

The Orchard Institute Foundations curriculum has truly been a God-send. God’s timing never ceases to amaze me! It was uncanny to see how the material tracked right along with where we were in our organizational development, especially as it related to verbalizing our mission in the Strategy and Story module. We had previously crafted our Mission Statement, but I quickly realized from the Institute curriculum that we had a lot more work to do in terms of communicating who we are and what we are striving to accomplish. That wasn’t necessarily what I wanted to realize at the time, mind you. But the way the curriculum and platform is structured, you are encouraged to do that necessary work before moving on to the next steps. It was also helpful to go through this experience with others who were learning how to be better Executive Directors of their own non-profits. Learning from their experiences with their organizations was a surprising bonus to the course.  

How has Orchard operationally helped you bridge any gaps you feel you may have in your non-profit? 

The second module, Strategy & Story, was extremely important because it helped me hone our message. Prior to those exercises, I was shooting from the hip when explaining our work to others. Every conversation, every explanation was different and I tended to over-answer the questions. The exercises in the curriculum helped me shorten and sharpen the message so that the listener was left wanting more, rather than thinking ‘Why did I ask?’ 

The other extremely helpful piece was the Funding and Donor Development lessons. Of all the modules, this was the one I needed the most and will no doubt return to again and again. It really opened my eyes to how important my role is, as Executive Director, to creating a culture of continual Donor Development and how intentional I need to be in fundraising efforts. I don’t know that anyone ever starts a non-profit because of their sheer joy of fundraising.  But the fact is, it’s the life-blood of any non-profit’s mission. The Orchard Institute training inspired me to realize that if I cared about my nonprofit’s mission, then I needed to care about making sure that mission is funded and sustained. 

After completing the first three modules of the Foundations Curriculum, what are you most excited about working on next in your non-profit?

The second module, Strategy & Story, really inspired me to become more strategic with our marketing and recruiting efforts. Being a brand-new organization, with a brand-new concept at that, we have a lot of work ahead of us in terms of just sharing our story and letting people know we exist. The Orchard Institute material caused me to realize that we need to be more intentional with our marketing efforts and actually have a plan to reach people, rather than just hoping they stumble upon us. Though this phrase does not appear in the Foundations curriculum, going through the material caused me to remember an expression a sales manager once told me: “People don’t know you’re an option, if they don’t know you exist.” The Orchard Institute material gave us tools that will help us tell people that we exist.    

What would you tell a non-profit leader who may be wondering if Orchard has the resources they need for growth and impact in their work?

I would tell them it’s lonely on the fence!  So hop down and come alongside the people who have walked further down the road you’re trying to walk, they can keep you out of the ditch. Seriously, there is no down-side here. Because of Orchard’s generosity in making this training available at no cost, you have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain! It is apparent to me that God has created Orchard to be a ministry to ministries, and God will use them to make your ministry better if you’ll let them.