Nonprofits take on capacity challenges

By Todd Cohen

[Note: I am working with Triangle Community Foundation as senior communications adviser.]

Housing for New Hope in Durham and Communities in Schools of Wake County both found a better way to collect data to help show funders their impact.

Camp High Hopes at YMCA of the Triangle found a more personal way to tell the story of its impact on kids.

And Durham Interfaith Hospitality Network found untapped support among its supporters to contribute some of the funds it needed.

Those lessons were among many that the four groups and other nonprofits learned through a program Triangle Community Foundation launched this year to help strengthen nonprofits that focus on youth literacy and community development.

The Foundation selected 22 organizations to participate in the first phase of the effort, awarding 20 of them about $2,500 each to conduct an assessment of their organizational capacity and inviting two representatives of each organization to participate in a “learning cohort.”

Of the two representatives from each nonprofit, one played a leadership role at the organization, and the other was involved either in youth literacy or community development.

“Funding and resources for capacity building are always the top struggle we hear about from nonprofits in our community,” says Lori O’Keefe, president of Triangle Community Foundation.

“We are attempting to fill this gap that many of these organizations see in their ability to build their capacity and strengthen their mission,” she says. “Having stronger nonprofits means they will be able to have a larger, collective impact on the issues they are working on in these areas.”

Capacity workshops

Participants in the learning cohort attended three workshops on topics that included how to work with consultants; data collection, evaluation and “logic modeling;” and how to tell a nonprofit’s story.

Nonprofits face a broad range of needs involving their organizational “capacity,” and they have a broad range of awareness about those needs, says Micah Gilmer, senior partner at Frontline Solutions, a consulting firm that designed and facilitated the workshops for Triangle Community Foundation.

Participants also shared with one another how they identify their organizational needs, and attended Triangle Community Foundation’s “What Matters” community luncheon in Raleigh on April 2, as well as a special session just for them with Leslie Crutchfield, the keynote speaker at the conference, who talked about the role of innovation and “collective impact” in making a difference on pressing community issues.


Communicating more effectively is a key need among all nonprofits, Gilmer says.

“One thing all of us can do better is being able to tell our story, and being able to talk in real terms about the people we’re touching, the lives we’re changing, and the way our work is connected to the broader challenges our state and our region face,” he says.

A big part of telling that story, he says, is to use data in a way to shows “you understand what the challenges are but also have real innovative solutions that can turn things around.”

Participants in the workshops agreed.

Karen Barlow, development specialist at YMCA of the Triangle, says that in preparing grant applications to support Camp High Hopes, a summer program for at-risk kids, she had used data to show the number of children who can or cannot read at grade level.

What she learned at the workshop on storytelling, she says, was that “you need to tell the story of the kid as much as you can because people are going to identify with him or her.”

At the workshop, led by writer Scott Huler, she says, she also learned that a good story also needs “a main character, a conflict, a climax and a resolution.”

So, instead of simply citing the percentage of elementary school students who are reading below grade level, for example,  her funding requests now might begin by saying that “Louis can barely read,” and then explain how Camp High Hopes addresses that need, and the difference it makes for Louis, she says.

What she learned, she says, was “how to bring your story to life as much as you can,” and how to “write a stronger narrative, or an application with a story,” and “illustrate your program better with a person rather than facts and figures.”

Data collection

Melissa Hartzell, development director at Housing for New Hope, a Durham nonprofit that provides access to integrated services, health care and housing for people who are homeless, was looking for a way to better collect data on its impact so it could give funders a better picture of the difference it was making.

During a conversation at one of the workshops, she says, she mentioned that her agency lacked that data to show the improvement in school among homeless children with access to stable housing.

Based on a suggestion from another workshop participant, Housing for New Hope now is working with the families it serves and the schools their children attend to obtain their test scores.

It will use that information to better tell its story to donors, Hartzell says.

Roberta Hadley, director of strategic initiatives at Communities in Schools of Wake County, says the agency also has been looking for a better way to collect data that show its impact on students it serves.

One of its community learning centers, for example, serves 60 to 65 students after school. While the students all live in the same community, they attend up to 25 different schools, making it a challenge to track data on their performance in school.

Partly as a result of the workshop session on data, Communities in Schools has centralized its data collection and now is working with staff at the central office for the Wake County Public School System to collect data, rather than having staff members at individual learning centers try to gather that data from multiple schools.

Data evaluation

Catherine Pleil, executive director of the Durham Interfaith Hospitality Network, or DIHN, says her agency is moving to a new model for delivering its services, and needed to make better sense of its data on donors and potential donors.

The agency, which has provided emergency shelter for homeless families by rotating where they stay among over 30 congregations, now aims to provide families with stationary housing.

To raise the money to do that, DIHN used its capacity-assessment grant from Triangle Community Foundation to hire consultants Moss+Ross to analyze its database of supporters.

The analysis found that, while the agency has a large database of supporters, many of them may not be contributing as much financial support as they can, reflecting untapped capacity for DIHN to raise the funds it needs to support its new strategy.

Capacity challenges

Gilmer says cuts in government funding for social services has created new capacity issues for nonprofits already facing big capacity challenges.

Not only do nonprofits face often complicated reporting requirements tied to the government funds they continue to receive, he says, but they also need to find ways to diversify their funding base as government support shrinks.

The key is to “communicate why and how they’re doing what they’re doing,” he says. “As folks encounter bureaucracy, don’t lose sight of the human element of what they’re doing. Tapping into new funding sources means in many cases learning a new language to talk about your work that conveys the value for the funders.”

In the face of government funding cuts, he says, it is important “to have a funding community that’s really well informed about the challenges that nonprofits face, and that is responsive to their needs.”

What’s next

Now that the cohort has wrapped up, many of the organizations have applied for phase two funding from the Foundation. That funding will focus on helping to put into effect strategies to improve organizational effectiveness that were identified during the assessment phase. Grantees for phase two will be announced in late summer.

“We are really excited to be working intentionally and strategically in this space, to bring together effective organizations to learn from each other, and to build their capacity as well as their drive to collaborate,” says Libby Richards, senior community programs officer for the Foundation.

“We will use the feedback garnered from this first learning cohort,” she says, “to shape the coming year’s program and look forward to seeing the impact that this investment will have on the nonprofit participants and the community.”

Nonprofit news roundup, 06.27.14

United Way, Volunteer Center team up to feed kids

United Way of Greater Greensboro and The Volunteer Center of Greensboro have teamed up to help feed hungry children in the community in the summer.

Aiming to supplement the work of Guilford County School feeding centers during the summer, United Way and The Volunteer Center are looking for donations and volunteers for their MeaningFULL Meals

Among the more than 72,000 students from kindergarten through 12th grade in the Guilford County Schools, over 56 percent qualify for free or reduced price lunch. In the summer, when school is not in session, those children often do not have access to a nutritious meal.

High Point United Way awards venture grants

United Way of Greater High Point awarded eight venture grants totaling $43,458 to local nonprofits to help meet emerging or unmet needs.

United Way, which now has made venture grants five times since 2007, received 34 applications from Guilford and Randolph counties for venture grants totaling over $295,824.

Recipients and the amounts they received include Alcohol & Drug Services of Guilford $2,600; Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Central Piedmont, $2,400; High Point Community Against Violence, $8,250; Horsepower; $5,000; Jamestown Public Library, $2,300.00; Out of the Garden Project, $9,900; Reading Connections, $10,000; and The Volunteer Center, $3,000.

Schwab Charitable posts growth

Schwab Charitable, a national donor advised fund, says grants in 2013 grew 36 percent, totaling 742 million to over 41,000 charities.

And appreciated assets accounted for over 65 percent of assets contributed into Schwab Charitable accounts.

Since it was created in 1999, Schwab Charitable has received over $9 billion in contributions and facilitated over $4 billion in grants to charities on behalf of its donors.

Anthony joining Armstrong McGuire

April Anthony, director of institutional advancement at the New Schools Project, will join consulting firm Armstrong McGuire on July 7 as a senior advisor.

She will be working with nonprofits and educational institutions across North Carolina on board development, strategic planning, capital campaign and executive search services.

HD Reach names director of clinical services

Jared Husketh, a member of the National Association of Social Workers who has completed his master’s degree in social work at North Carolina State University, has been named director of clinical services at HD Reach, a Raleigh-based nonprofit that works to help patients and families affected by Huntington’s disease.

Rotary district governor named for Triangle

Matthew Kane, president and owner of Cutting Edge Engraving in Raleigh, has been named to the volunteer post of Rotary International district governor for 2014-15.

As district governor, Kane will coordinate community and international service projects for the 46 Triangle-area Rotary clubs.

The outgoing governor for 2013-14 term is Leigh Hudson, owner of Hudson’s Hardware & Outdoor Equipment in Garner and Clayton.

Health Underwriters recognize president, members

Andy Thompson, president of the Triad Association of Health Underwriters for 2013-14 and a sales representative for The Cason Group, received the organization’s Member of the Year award on June 3 at Starmount Forest Country Club in Greensboro.

The Association also presented Maureen White, a small business account executive for Coventry Health Care, and Aetna Company, with its Spark Plug Award, which recognizes a member who makes significant contributions, performs outstanding service, and goes beyond what is required.

And it presented its inaugural James‘Randy’ Southard Distinguished Service Award to Randy Southard, who is stepping down as the organization’s secretary after 10 years. The award recognizes a member’s outstanding contribution to the organization.

MS Society to honor NASCAR team owner

The Greater Carolinas chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society will honor Richard Childress, president and CEO of Richard Childress Racing and a former NASCAR driver on September 23 at Bridger Field House at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem.

The event will be a part of the National MS Society’s Dinner of Champions series.

Medical Society names three staffers

The North Carolina Medical Society has named three new staff members.

Kristina “Tina” Natt och Dag, who has a doctorate in workforce and human resource education from North Carolina State University has been named director of the Kanof Institute for Physician Leadership at the Society’s Foundation.

 Denna Suko, a veteran association manager, has been named deputy director of specialty society, meeting and education services.

And Jennifer Gasperini, formerly senior government affairs representative for the Medical Group Managers Association in Washington, D.C., has been named director of health policy.

CASA to build 10-unit apartment

CASA, an affordable-housing nonprofit in Raleigh, is set to build a 10-unit apartment building on Sunnybrook Road designated for veterans in need.

The apartments would be the second and final phase of the Sunnybook Apartments. A year ago, 10 disabled veterans moved into the first units.

Greensboro United Way adds four to board

United Way of Greater Greensboro has added four members to its board of directors, including Paul Leslie, vice president for academic affairs, dean of the faculty, and professor of sociology, Greensboro College; Lee Stokes, founder and senior pastor, Destiny Christian Center; Gregg Strader, executive vice president, American National Bank & Trust; and Jason Strange, senior manager, PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Horizons names four board members

Horizons Residential Care Center in Rural Hall elected members to its board, including Chris Chapman, a commercial real estate broker and president of The Chapman Company; London Carpenter, who is employed at Wake Forest Baptist Health; Lindsey Green, a teacher with the Guilford County Schools; and Shinika McKiever, who works in wealth management and philanthropy at Wells Fargo.

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship donates $7,441

Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship has donated a total of $7,441 to three nonprofit agencies working to decrease violence and to improve services for the disabled and Hispanics, including Alliances of Disability Advocates-Center for Independent Living, El Futuro, and Religious Coalition for Nonviolent Durham.

John Rex Endowment gives $80,000

The John Rex Endowment in Raleigh awarded two capacity-building grants totaling nearly $80,000 to Wade Edwards Learning Lab and Wake Education Partnership.

Keep content on your website fresh

If you want people to visit your website on a regular basis, give them a reason to keep returning to it.

So you should be posting new content all the time.

That can be a lot easier than it sounds. Just be smart, and think creatively. For example:

* Did your nonprofit recently receive a grant? What will you do with the funds? How will the grant help you better serve clients and advance your mission?

* Did your foundation recently make a grant? Which organization did you fund? What difference will its program make in the lives of the people it serves?

* Did you recently receive a gift? Who is the donor? Why did they make the gift? How will you use the funds?

* Have you hired a new staff member or named a new board member? Who are they? What are their aspirations for your nonprofit?

* Are you working collaboratively? Who is your partner? How did the partnership come about, and what is it trying to accomplish?

* Have you got special events or fundraising drives coming up? Why are they important? How can people get involved?

* What is your mission? What programs do you offer? What impact are you making in the lives of your clients?

Articles on those topics, among many others you can write about, can be short. Create a list of topics, and then try to write a short article every week.

Give people a reason to keep visiting your website. And use every article to help visitors understand your work and impact, and to inspire them to get involved.

Want help?

Philanthropy North Carolina is a consulting practice that provides writing and strategic communications support for nonprofits, foundations, colleges and universities, and others working for social good.

To find out more about hiring Philanthropy North Carolina to work with your organization to improve your communications, contact Todd Cohen at 919.272.2051 or

Millennials value employers that give back

Millennials, or people born after 1979, believe a company’s involvement with a cause is one of the most important factors in deciding whether to apply for a job, a new report says.

Forty-seven percent of more than 1,500 Millennials who were employees at over 300 U.S. companies and participated in a survey by Achieve and the Case Foundation had volunteered for a cause or nonprofit through their workplace in the past month.

Eighty-seven percent of Millennial employees feel encouraged to participate in their company’s cause work, an equal share donated to a nonprofit in 2013, and 92 percent believed they were actively contributing to their company having a positive effect on the world, the Millennial Impact Report says.

“With approximately 80 million Millennials in the world who will soon make up 50 percent of the workforce, thus  generating is already redefining our culture and the workplace,” Derrick Feldmann, CEO at Achieve, says in a statement.

The survey results challenge the “stereotype of this generation as self-centered,” he says.

While what a company makes and sells is the top motivation for Millennials when applying for a job, 53 percent of survey respondents said that, beyond compensation and benefits, having their passions and talents used and fulfilled was the top reason for staying with a company.

Another 20 percent stayed because of a belief in their company’s mission and purpose, and 20 percent stayed because of bonds with co-workers.

Todd Cohen

Volunteerism up at United Way, down in U.S.

The rate of volunteerism has grown at local United Ways in the U.S. but dropped in the U.S. overall, a new report from United Way Worldwide says.

Most volunteers are not volunteering for work likely to make the most impact in addressing priority community needs, says Volunteering: The Force Multiplier for Community Change.

And most United Way CEOs expect the pace of volunteering to continue to grow this year, it says.

Including volunteers engaged directly by local United Ways and those recruited for community partnerships among local agencies and United Ways, the number of United Way volunteers grew to 2.68 million in 2012 from 2.32 million in 2006, an increase of 15.5 percent, the report says.

That compares to an increase of 5.4 percent to 64.5 million volunteers from 61.2 million over the same period in the U.S. overall, it says.

The number of volunteers engaged directly by local United Ways grew to 1.3 million in 2012 from 1.05 million in 2002, or an increase of 23.8 percent, compared to an increase of 9 percent from 59.2 million volunteers in the U.S. overall during the same period.

The share of Americans age 16 and over who volunteer fell from 27.5 percent in 2002 to 25.4 percent in 2013 — its lowest point since the federal government began collecting data 12 years ago, the report says.

While the declining share of people volunteering may reflect the fact that the U.S. population has grown, the number of actual volunteers grew 9 percent from 2002 through 2012, the report says.

And in a survey of 74 United Way CEOs in the U.S. and abroad, 73 percent predicted volunteering will continue to grow in the next year.

Mentoring and tutoring

Eighty-nine percent of United Way CEOs said spending time as a mentor is the act of volunteering that generates the most lasting results for individuals and communities, and 62 percent said tutoring and teaching struggling students also is critical.

Yet, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 7 percent of American volunteers’ main donated work last year involved mentoring, and 10 percent of volunteer activity was related to tutoring or teaching, United Way says.

Another 11 percent involved collecting, preparing, distributing or serving food,; 10 percent involved fundraising; 8 percent involved general labor or transportation; and 7 percent involved serving  on boards.

Nationally, over 300,000 people have signed up on the volunteer website at United Way, which has been working to recruit volunteer readers, tutors and mentors for struggling students.


Sixty-one percent of United Way CEOs say local employers are the best source for boosting volunteering and creating opportunities on a scale needed to improve communities, the report says.

According to The State of Health of Corporate Volunteering from the International Association for Volunteer Effort, companies throughout the world increasingly are focusing their volunteer work on specific priorities, applying all their resources — human, financial, in-kind and relational — to maximize their impact on a broad range of human, social and environmental problems, United Way says.

Personal connections

Still, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, top-down requests from employers are less effective than volunteer requests from co-workers or from people within a volunteer organization, United Way says.

People are roughly as likely to become involved with a volunteer organization through personal outreach and explanation as through someone asking them to get involved, it says.

Of those being asked to volunteer, it says, nine in 10 will become a regular volunteer when asked by a relative, friend or someone at the volunteer organization.

Schools and faith communities

In the survey, half the United Way CEOs said educational institutions are crucial players in the effort to enlist more volunteers, and 43 percent said religious communities were strong volunteer partners.

One-third of Americans volunteer most of their time through their faith communities, a trend that is even great among older volunteers., United Way says.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it says, 42.9 percent of volunteers age 65 and older did their volunteering mainly through or for a religious organization, compared to 26.8 percent of volunteers age 16 to 24.

The decline in  volunteerism could be connected to the slowdown in regular religious attendance over the decades, the report suggests.

According to Gallup, nearly four in 10 Americans say they attended religious services in the past seven days, compared to nearly five in 10 in the mid-1950s.

Gender and parenthood

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service and the National Conference on Citizenship, women continue to volunteer significantly more than men across all demographic divides, United Way says.

And working mothers continue to volunteer at a significantly higher rate than the population overall.

Among parents with children under age 18 volunteered, 33.5 percent volunteered, compared to 26.5 percent of the population overall and 23.8 percent of individuals without children.

Todd Cohen

PTA Thrift Shop grows, plans nonprofit center

CARRBORO, N.C. — Since it was created in 1952 to help generate funds for arts education in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, the PTA Thrift Shop has raised and donated an estimated $7 million to $8 million to local schools.

In December, it opened a new 14,000-square-foot flagship store in a 22,000-square-foot facility it built at 125 West Main St. in Carrboro to replace a smaller building built in the 1940s as a grocery store.

It has leased part of the new facility to three programs of the city schools, generating about $120,000 a year in rent.

And it plans to create a Nonprofit Collaborative Venture on the same site, either by renovating and expanding two existing mill houses for a total of 3,500 square feet, or razing them and building a new 5,600-square-foot facility that would house five to seven nonprofit tenants.

“Our plan is to solicit nonprofits that have aligned missions,” says Barbara Jessie-Black, executive director.

By providing the “physical and philosophical space” for them to work together, she says, the PTA Thrift Shop hopes the nonprofit tenants will be able to have a greater impact on the community.

Operating with an annual budget of just over $2 million and a staff of 35 employees, the PTA Thrift Shop also operates a 6,800-square-foot retail store at Village Plaza in Chapel Hill.

It collects donated items — including art, books, clothing, computers, computer accessories, electronics, furniture, household items, movies, music and video games — and sells usable items, generating about $200,000 to $300,000 a year that it then donates to the schools through 20 local Parent-Teacher Associations.

Those donated dollars are used to subsidize school playgrounds, science supplies, computer hardware and software, cultural enrichment programs, field trips, sports equipment, and uniforms, among other needs.

Half the donated items the PTA Thrift Shop receives are not suitable for sale at its retail stores. It either finds another purpose for 80 percent of those items, recycles them, or sells them to a third party, and discards the remaining 20 percent as trash.

“Annually, we keep 300 to 500 tons out of the landfill,” says Jessie-Black.

To finance its $4 million new flagship store, the PTA Thrift Shop has raised nearly $500,000 in the first phase of a capital campaign that still aims to raise another $500,000, and used its 1.25 acre site in Carrboro as collateral for a loan.

To help diversify its funding, the Thrift Shop has leased the remaining space in it new building to the volunteer, Head Start and pre-kindergarten programs of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

Funds from the campaign’s second phase, to begin this fall, will support the new  Nonprofit Collaborative Venture, which will provide nonprofit tenants with shared space and amenities, such as a conference room and break room.

“Our goal,” Jessie-Black says, “is to have a mix of nonprofit partners that embody the values of investing for community good.”