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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Expertise Aided Multiple Organizations

Bob Gorman

Three years ago Watertown City Manager Sharon Addison called me about the fledgling backpack program at the Watertown City School District.

    Could the United Way, she asked, be the conduit for money so that people can make a tax deductible contribution to the United Way of NNY and designate the donation to the backpack program?

    Two things should be noted here: The United Way is the nation’s largest mover of money that connects donors and good works; and, food insecurity is one of the United Way’s national focal points.

    In other words, Addison had me at “could.”

    Soon after I found out that:

  • School districts collect money all sorts of ways, including booster club fundraisers and PTO membership drives. But the more money that comes and goes – other than taxes coming in and salaries, supplies and maintenance expenses going out – the more antsy school officials get. Creating new funding streams – such as backpack programs — makes it that much easier for some “helpful” outsider to quietly syphon off, i.e. embezzle, a little bit here and a little bit there.
  • To make a backpack program work, volunteers (usually administrators and teachers) spend their own time and gas money driving to various grocery stores to buy the least expensive food that meets minimum nutritional standards. The model often becomes unsustainable after creators of backpack programs discover that generating money to sustain a program is a lot harder than generating money to start one.

    In time Addison, Watertown School Superintendent Patti LaBarr and I were trying to figure out how to make the Watertown backpack program efficient and sustainable.

    Today, WCSD has a “Food 4 Families,” pantry that provides weekend food to around 100 students during the school year. The food is ordered online through the Food Bank of Central New York and delivered by an 18-wheeler every two weeks to the school district’s building on Massey Street. And more than $30,000 in donations has come to the United Way for our account at the Food Bank.

    During this same period of time, Addison played a quiet, behind-the-scene role in helping the New York State Zoo at Thompson Park remain viable as it retrofitted while in a chokehold world of increased animal care costs and a declining number of locally owned businesses available to sponsor educational programs.

    As a long-time Thompson Park Conservancy board member and former chair, I can tell you that over the years some city politicians have foisted agendas on the zoo that had more to do with their own election cycles rather than exhibit upkeep, animal health and procurement, and educational outreach.

    While the zoo is run independently from the city, the zoo is dependent on the city to pay for utility services, and provide upkeep of buildings that existed before the conservancy was created in the early 1990s. Addison always committed the city to fulfill its zoo obligations immediately – such as extensive improvements to the director’s house — rather than put the zoo at the end of the line for attention, as every city manager is tempted to do.

    I also worked with Addison on the $1 million Watertown Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative (ESPRI). While ESPRI Director Peter Schmitt deserves the credit for Watertown being the first city in the state to have its projects approved and funded, Schmitt in turn will tell you that Addison and Mayor Joe Butler set a tone and direction that greased the skids for success.

    To us, it is no wonder that Addison was recently honored by the Watertown Urban Mission and the Community Action Planning Council for her role in the success of the program “Getting Ahead in a Just-Getting-By World.” The program, which will now be funded through ESPRI, helps participants identify what they need to do to resolve crises in their own lives, and gives them the tools to overcome barriers that keep them in poverty.

    And have you noticed the impressive growth of the Victims Assistance Center of Jefferson County, which now has programs in St. Lawrence and Lewis counties? The VAC’s board of directors is chaired by Sharon Addison.

    Addison’s time as city manager is over, and we’re all entitled to our opinions about whether the city council hit a home run or struck out in deciding to not extend her contract.

    However, I think there is one thing everyone should be able to agree on: Addison was a failure at self-promotion and developing street-fighting skills. She never bought a horn to toot. And she never embraced the governmental management axiom that success requires you to occasionally and cold-bloodedly do unto others before they do unto you.

    My opinion of Addison is limited to only working with her in the nonprofit world. So maybe I am wrong, but I think our community would be better served if more women were like Sharon Addison.

                Actually, I think our community would be even better served if more men were like Sharon Addison as well.

Nonprofits Not Place for Political Gamesmanship

MEME PROVIDED BY BOB GORMAN Watertown City Council candidate created this meme in his opposition to ACR Health’s syringe exchange office. In it he also falsely accused City Councilman Steve Jennings of selecting the location.

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Greetings to the members of the Class of 2017!

Bob Gorman

Those of you who should have been in the Class of 2016 have already learned an important business lesson about this esteemed institution that honors you today: The journey is more important than the destination — as long as your check doesn’t bounce.

    And speaking of business, all of you will be looking for a job soon and there are a couple of things you ought to know. Your perception of the job market and what you think employers are looking for is likely very different from what the job market is and what employers are actually looking for.

    It’s like the difference between a recession and a depression. A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose YOUR job. The Rev. Jesse Jackson campaigned for president in the 1980s using this concept. Even though national unemployment was 5 percent at the time, he would tell listeners: “But if YOU are the one without a job, the unemployment rate is 100 percent.”

    Your perception of the job market is affected by the government, which relentlessly tinkers with the economy to create more jobs. Thus, you may be under the impression that everyone is doing his utmost to ensure that everyone has a job.

    And you would be wrong.

    Government says it wants full employment. But business and industry strive for minimum employment because minimum employment is the key to keeping down costs.

    Thus, as you look for a job you should know this: Nobody really wants to hire you.

    This is evidenced by the fact that in most cases, the job you will be applying for has been vacant for some time.

    Business and industry often allow jobs to go unfilled for a while to control expenses and to learn — or be reminded — of just how important the job is to the company. By the time you show up for the interview, the company has only recently — and reluctantly — decided that someone must be hired.

    There are some very sound business reasons for this reluctance.

    1) You are costly. Your salary is all that you see, but the company sees health benefits, insurance, Social Security and a variety of other costs. You think you’re getting paid $30,000, but to the company you are costing it $40,000 or more.

    2) You don’t know anything. You’ll even admit it in a job interview by saying such things as, “I’m a quick learner,” or “you’ll only have to tell me once.” To the company you are a person who won’t generate a return on its investment for at least a year.

    3) You have just spent four years in college being coddled in a manner the rest of the world can’t afford to replicate. There are a lot of chuckleheads who six months out of college quit their jobs and run home to mommy after being wounded by some minor inconvenience. Thus, you are considered a flight-risk hire.

    So if nobody wants you, how do you get a job? The first thing you must do is decide what you want to accomplish in your interview. That means you must learn what the company wants to accomplish.

    Of course, there are several things you shouldn’t do during a job interview. Never ask:

* When do I get a vacation?

* When do I get a raise?

* Will I have to work overtime?

    Never announce which sports teams you hate. Don’t say church is for idiots. If asked about hobbies, don’t meander into your sex life. And don’t get cute and ask what the company is doing to save the Brazilian rain forest, unless the company is actually trying to save rain forests.

    Obviously, what you say will be held against you. In a way, what you are trying to do is have a lively discussion without putting your foot in your mouth.

    Make a list of questions and store them mentally. Learn about the company’s history on its website. They do not have to be great questions, but they will show that you are actually interested in learning about the company. How long does training take place? How many employees are there? Does the company encourage people to be involved in community activities? After all, most businesses and industries want to be good corporate neighbors and want employees who are on the same wavelength.

    Basically, you have few advantages during the interview other than trying to control who is doing the talking.

    Will any of this work? There are no guarantees, of course. Nobody has a sure-fire method for getting a job. But I do know how you can at least be asked to come in for that crucial job interview.

    On your resume, write the following:

SHORT-TERM GOAL

    “To do my job so well that within a year after I’m hired my supervisor will receive a promotion and a pay raise.”

    I know this doesn’t jibe with your notion that the world is about you. But forget the jibe; you need a job. Trust me, this will work.

                Good luck on your future, especially to those of you who added a self-inflicted extra semester or two to your debt load.

August 2016: Nonprofits Today

Embracing the call to ‘Lives Matter’

Bob Gorman

Bob Gorman

In September 1976 my brother, Jim, was shooting baskets with fellow members of the Morgan State University basketball team. It was “open gym” so other students were nearby shooting baskets as well.

No big deal, except for one minor detail: Jim had just shown up on campus as the first white player to receive a basketball scholarship to Baltimore’s “historically black” Morgan State. [Read more…]

April 2016: Nonprofits Today

Working for north country businesses

Editor’s note: The following information was presented March 3 during the Business of the Year Awards given by the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce. The United Way of Northern New York was named the Small Nonprofit of the Year at the event.

Bob Gorman

Bob Gorman

Every day the Watertown Daily Times prints the names of people charged with driving under the influence. It’s easy to dismiss the names as representing the dregs of society.

But if you are in management around here long enough, one day one of those names will belong to one of your employees, a person who is crucial to the success of your business. [Read more…]

April 2016: Guest Essay

Connecting education with business, industry

Tracy Gyoerkoe

Tracy Gyoerkoe

Career and technical educators have been connecting education with business and industry almost since their inception. In today’s world, it’s even more important for these connections to remain strong, and more and more, all educators are working to connect learning to the real world of work. [Read more…]

February 2016: Nonprofits Today

Nonprofits on front lines of heroin war

Bob Gorman

Bob Gorman

In her office at Pivot, Anita Seefried-Brown has created a collage with the faces of bright and promising young adults, all now dead from heroin and other opiate overdoses. One of the photos is of her late son, Herbie. [Read more…]

February 2016: Business Briefcase

MILESTONES

Watertown Chamber names award winners

The Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce recently announced recipients of 2015 Business of the Year awards. [Read more…]