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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Best Stories Of the North Country Are Its Human Ones

Rande Richardson

“I am bound to them, though I cannot look into their eyes or hear their voices. I honor their history. I cherish their lives. I will tell their story. I will remember them.” — Author unknown

Funeral directors don’t deal well with mortality. Staring daily into the face of death has many effects, including a continual awareness of the fragility and transitory nature of life. At the same time, it has a way of helping sort through the things that matter, creating urgency around living your life with purpose and meaning.

    Last month, one of my funeral director mentors died at the age of 80. There were feelings of regret for not having had that last conversation, that last opportunity to say “thank-you” for the way he shaped my life. I learned so much from him and his son. In many ways, his funeral service served to provide the bridge to the next step in accepting a world without him in it. In that moment, too, as I witnessed the memorializing of someone who had always been on the other side of serving families in need, the importance of remembering became even more fundamental. In so doing, we remind ourselves that each of us, in our own time, is responsible for carrying on, just as those who have come before us.

    I am often asked where I work, what I do. In many ways, what I do is very similar to what I did as a funeral director. I am the temporary custodian of something preciously valued. I am honored with the duty of care in honoring the memory of our community’s people. Ultimately, the stories of the north country are its human ones; people who, during their lifetimes, lived, loved and cared in a way that affected others.

    I prefer to answer the question of why I do what I do. I feel a tremendous obligation to tell our community’s stories honorably in a way that helps ensure that those who have come before us are lovingly remembered. Perhaps more lasting, though, is how their lives provided an example of a continuum of care for where they spent their lives — the teacher who left an imprint on thousands, the doctor or nurse who was there to comfort and heal, the person from any walk of life who simply chose to make a difference. Not only is it right to honor these legacies, it is how others are inspired to continue that tradition.

    After a decade at the Community Foundation, I’ve been there long enough to carry out the wishes of those whom I had previous conversations regarding how they intended their support of important causes to endure when they were gone. Because of their thoughtful planning, they continue to support the people, places and organizations of the region with consistent, thoughtful, lasting care.

    At the end of the day, the things that make our community more than average are made possible by the work and mission of our region’s charitable organizations, through the support of donors of time, talent and treasure. Many caring citizens have partnered with nonprofit organizations as a tangible expression of their interests and values. These range from education, health care, a wide scope of human services, animal welfare, arts and culture, history and recreation.

    The early citizens who made gifts to build the Community Foundation did so long before many of today’s needs were clearly apparent. A donor in 1929 likely would not have anticipated the desire to offer hospice services in the region 50 years later. They would be pleased to know that the stewardship of their desire for a better community could impact lives in meaningful ways far into the future. It is hard to separate honoring one’s memory and telling the story of the forever effect of their existence. Just as matter is neither created nor destroyed, kindness, caring and generosity has an extended half-life. One way or another, each of us is forever part of our community’s story.

    In a recent CBS “On The Road” feature, Steve Hartman remembered his dad, stating “His death makes me an orphan. I can tell you this is a unique kind of emptiness. When there is no one left on earth to love you quite so unconditionally.” Sooner or later, we all can relate. “Although losing such a parent can feel like kryptonite, remembering them in all their glory can make your heart fly.”

We are at the intersection of today and tomorrow. Remember that our own lives will continue to ripple throughout our communities for a long time to come. Be ever aware of the story you were born to tell. Focus not only what you leave behind but what you made possible. Not so much for the gifts you give, but the love behind them. Do so with purpose so that others will want to remember you in ways that causes many more hearts to fly and the goodness in our communities and its organizations to endure across the generations.