The Role of Nonprofits in the Post-Pandemic World

Lt Col Jamie Cox

The novel coronavirus pandemic of 2020 clearly reinforced the need for human-service nonprofit organizations, who can often provide quicker response than the government and can perform programs and services that the government ceded over the years. However, over the course of the past 10 months, we’ve come to realize that our communities cannot financially sustain the multitude of charitable agencies that operate inefficiently, quasi-independently and with less than desirable outcomes. We are too wedded to our legacy and history, and not run as effectively and efficiently as a successful, private or publicly traded company.  We must change. 

In my role as CEO of United Way of Northern New York, I’ve had the incredible fortune to be a first-person witness to many of the miracles that were performed and the overwhelming wave of generosity throughout the north country during the first nine months of the pandemic. But I also observed our shortfalls, competition for limited resources, and degradation in the quality of service to our communities. We must evolve through mergers, restructuring, and financing the priorities that provide the highest return on investment. If we don’t take bold action, economic forces will dictate our future as opposed to taking proactive steps to drive our own destiny. 

Change is never easy and to approach the problem set from an individual agency standpoint will only reinforce the emotional loyalty and biases we feel toward our favorite agencies. I do understand that many social and religious organizations host programs or ministries that are near and dear to them: food pantries and food drives, coat and boot drives, fundraisers for charitable agencies that align with culture and mission, and more. Where can we create a point of collaboration to make all our efforts more meaningful and effective?   

We must start with the needs of each city, town or village. Once quantified and prioritized, an analysis is conducted to determine if there are other resources available to meet the need. If not, then the community leadership collectively develops multiple courses of action. A thorough assessment of each course of action, to include the pros and cons, economic impact, financial viability and measures of quality will be completed. The most effective and efficient solutions will be chosen. 

Over the past 18 months, the UWNNY has been gathering and analyzing data. The 2010 Census created a foundation and has been updated by the annual American Community Survey. Daily, we continue to insert additional data points, such as food insecurity, domestic violence, overdose, and poverty rates, crime statistics, availability of mental and physical healthcare, access to broadband internet and more. This creates an intimate understanding of needs across the north country.   

Through the understanding of information, we can create smart solutions that improve the effectiveness and efficiency of our vital programs and services. For example, many of our municipalities have multiple food pantries, which provide life-sustaining food to our vulnerable residents. However, a simple Gantt chart depicts very limited windows of opportunity for families to access food. What if the family only has one car, and it’s being used from dawn until evening for employment? How do they access food? Much like a retail business that evaluates the hours that shoppers are available to come to their store, by combining multiple food pantries and their financial and personnel resources, we can pool resources for one food pantry in a village whose location and operating hours give access when families need it most. That’s how we move the needle.   

Service to vulnerable human beings has evolved over the years. We know that mental health, physical health, financial health, success in education, and emotional and cognitive development are all intertwined. Focusing on only one element will not achieve the desired results. The days of handing out nearly stale bread to prediabetics and Type 2 diabetics must stop. The practice of giving a family short-dated produce, meat and dairy only reinforces the notion that they are not worthy of the foods that we feed our families. We must up our game through cost savings and efficiencies to ensure that our assistance is not physically or mentally harming the wonderful people that we’re trying to help.  Quality is an essential part of putting a person or family on the successful road to independence and self-sufficiency. 

The north country is home to the intellect and passion to enact real change. The United Way of Northern New York continues to reach out to each city, town, village and school district to provide a constructive space for critical thought and innovative solutions. We hope that you’ll join us in creating a higher quality of life for each resident of Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties. 

 

A Critical Moment in Time

Word Inequality cut with scissors to two parts In and Equality, gray background, top view

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100 percent: The Importance of Board Member Giving

“The most powerful leadership tool you have is your own personal example.” — John Wooden

Rande Richardson

It is generally understood that nonprofit board members are responsible for an organization’s success. Our region is blessed with passionate and sincerely well-intentioned volunteers who answer the call to serve as leaders for the many charities that change our world. As board members are recruited and oriented, they should be made aware of the many functions that are part of their responsibilities. Above all, you must be a roaring advocate for your shared work and mission. You are an evangelist in a sense, and your example is a testimony to that passion and an invitation for others to catch that same energy. Yes, board members are volunteers. The best board members give their hearts, souls, and one of the most precious gifts of all: their time. However, as leaders of an organization that relies on others to make a financial commitment, that leadership must not be overlooked.

Anyone who has served on a board quickly gains a keen awareness of the important role donors play in the ability to fulfill an organization’s work and mission. Unfortunately, what is often downplayed is the way board members must be accountable for the financial health of the institution. Board member giving is natural and essential. The strongest and most engaged boards are those where every board member, in some form, participates in fundraising for the organization. A personal gift by a board member of an organization seeking public support is non-negotiable. Without 100 percent participation, a nonprofit is at a major disadvantage when asking others to commit financial support to a mission driven by board leadership. When organizations ask the Community Foundation to financially participate in a certain program, project or initiative, knowing their leadership is not fully invested is understandably problematic. You would be surprised how often board member names are absent from an organization’s own donor list. Somehow, they have not recognized that leadership giving:

• Is a public declaration that the board member has invested in the charity.

• Indicates that the board member has a commitment to the organization and its work and mission.

• Encourages other donors to give and leads the way for others who provide grants or other support.

As they expect others to give, there is simply no way one can be a fully enthusiastic ambassador for the organization they lead without their own multidimensional skin the game. If a board member does not give, how can they encourage staff to effectively partner with them to raise funds? If a board member does not give, how can they expect them to effectively thank and steward existing donors? While the goal is 100 percent participation at any level, board leaders should consider giving a stretch gift that is among their top three charitable gifts they give each year. People are watching. People want to know. Other funders will ask. Give a gift that you are proud of. Give a gift that invites others to join you. Lead, don’t follow.

When you and your organization are recruiting board members, be sure to explain, write down, and clarify these expectations. It is important enough to commit to something as simple as “Each year, I will make, without being reminded, a personal financial contribution to the organization for which I serve as a board member at a level that is meaningful to me.” The board chairman and members should hold one another accountable around these expectations rather than leaving it to staff. Prospective board members should be told whatever expectations exist and be given a chance to bow out of the process if they aren’t comfortable with them.

Would you be less likely to be a passenger on a plane that the pilot is flying from the ground? You were recruited and asked to serve on a board for various reasons and you’re much better able to be a champion for your cause if you serve from a front row seat. You and the board are instrumental in the future of your organization. As a visible and vocal ambassador, you are passionate about the example you set. It creates and reinforces a culture of giving that is not as achievable by volunteering alone. If you don’t feel that kind of drive for your organization, it may be the wrong cause for you. Board service is a joy and a privilege. Done right, you will always get so much more than you give.

April 20 Questions: A Rich Life of Giving

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY BUSINESS DPAO founder recalls service to community and lasting impacts

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Thank you, volunteers, for all you do

HOLLY BONAME n NNY BUSINESS In Jefferson County this year's recipients of the Macsherry Family Community Spirit Awards are Tops Family Markets and Heather White, left, With Richard Macsherry.

HOLLY BONAME n NNY BUSINESS
In Jefferson County this year’s recipients of the Macsherry Family Community Spirit Awards are Tops Family Markets and Heather White, left, With Richard Macsherry.

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