Missed signals as Triangle YWCA failed

By Todd Cohen

Ret Boney of the Philanthropy Journal has written an important and insightful account of the demise of YWCA of the Greater Triangle, a 110-year-old agency in Raleigh, N.C., that closed its doors in February.

Faced with clear signs of financial trouble, with revenue plunging while expenses soared, the YWCA relied heavily on grants, sought to portray itself as thriving, and was hampered by a lack of communication among its staff, board and funders about what was happening.

Through meticulous reporting, Boney has pieced together a story that has not been told before and that hold lessons for nonprofits everywhere as they face rising demand for services; higher expectations from funders and donors to be more efficient, effective and accountable; and growing stress and strain from the damaged  economy.

Here’s the opening section of  Boney’s story:

By Ret Boney

RALEIGH, N.C. — In early November, more than 400 people gathered at the Marriott in downtown Raleigh for an evening of pageantry, food, awards and live music from jazz-great Nnenna Freelon.

The occasion was the 29th annual Academy of Women Awards, an event presented each fall by YWCA of the Greater Triangle to recognize women who have excelled in their fields and who have supported the agency’s mission.

But despite the veneer of success and vibrancy the event provided, the YWCA was in deep trouble.

Just four months later, with no warning, the YWCA closed its doors, leaving employees and creditors – as well as the women, children and seniors it served – shocked and adrift.

Community members and the organization’s funding partners did not see the closure coming, and the YWCA’s board, while it had begun to worry, was trying to keep the financial troubles under wraps, says Maria Spaulding, a YWCA board member who served as chair until last fall.

“As a board and staff, we sent some very strong signals at the start of November that we were doing ok,” says Spaulding, who serves as deputy secretary for long-term care and family services at the state Department of Health and Human Services. “The community was so shocked because we had just had this major event.”

And although the board knew at the time that the organization’s financial stability was tenuous, it was not until February of this year, the same month it closed, that the board recognized that shutting down was a possibility, Spaulding says.

In the wake of its demise, community members, funders and nonprofits are struggling to understand how a respected organization, which for 110 years was an integral part of the civic fabric of the Triangle, could disappear so quickly.

And while many details remain murky, the problems the YWCA faced, and the way it handled them, underscore serious challenges shared by many nonprofits and funders across the social sector, and can serve as cautionary tales as the Triangle community regroups and moves on.

To read the full story, click here.

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