Motheread works to boost literacy for adults, kids

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — In 1987, Nancye Gaj, an administrator for the N.C. Community College System who had taught basic skills to adults, concluded that wanting to read the Bible and read to their children typically were two of the main reasons illiterate adults wanted to learn to read, but that adult literacy programs typically were designed to prepare adults only for the world of work.

So she founded Motheread, a Raleigh nonprofit that aimed to teach adults to read based on why they wanted to read.

“There are very few people now who can’t read anything, but there are many people who cannot read well enough to succeed in school or work or even well enough to reach their family goals, and there are lots of people who don’t see a reason to read,” says Carolyn Dickens, who has worked at Motheread since it was founded and has served as its executive director since 2011.

“So we use the power of the story, whatever that story is, to reach people so they want to improve, they see a reason,” she said.

Motheread initially received federal funds through the state Department of Cultural Resources to provide a literacy class for mothers serving time at the N.C. Correctional Institution for Women in Raleigh.

That class soon was the focus of a televised report by CBS Sunday Morning that in turn attracted requests for training from adult-literacy providers in Florida and Vermont.

Today, operating with an annual budget of $600,000 and a staff of 14 people, Motheread provides direct literacy services in Wake County. It also offers nine curricula it has developed to improve the literacy skills or practices of parents, literacy providers and child-care providers, or help people obtain citizenship or improve their work skills. And it trains groups to use those curricula.

Motheread has trained thousands of people in over 30 states, and in Guam and the Mariana Islands, to use its curricula.

And it has formed a broad range of partnerships that provide literacy services to adults and children, and literacy training for groups that provide those services.

It partners with the Wake County Public School System, Wake County Human Services and SAFEchild to provide literacy skills for mothers and fathers.

It partners with the N.C. Department of Community Colleges to provide adult literacy classes, mainly in English as a second language, at United Methodist Church in Cary and Apex United Methodist Church.

As part of Wake Up and Read, a collaboration with the Wake County public schools and other nonprofits, it has offered nearly 20 workshops at churches and Head Start programs for over 100 parents of pre-schoolers, and supported a book drive that collected 80,000 books for children to read over the summer.

In partnership with the Wake County Smart Start, it is working to help 100 child-care providers in Wake County improve their literacy practices.

In partnership with Meredith College, it trained 90 college students last year to work with elementary school students in Wake County.

And as a partner in the “Transformation Zone,” a federally funded collaborative program that is preparing children in Chowan, Bertie, Beaufort and Hyde counties in eastern North Carolina to enter kindergarten, Motheread is providing training and support to help personnel who work with adults or as child-care providers improve their own literacy practices.

With revenue from training and delivery of services generating nearly all its budget, and donations accounting for only one percent to two percent, Motheread is looking for ways to boost private support. It recently received a $40,000 grant from GlaxoSmithKline.

“We want to reach more parents with that money,” Dickens says. “We want to help parents improve their skills so they can help their children. The role of the parent cannot be overstated.”

Nonprofit news roundup, 12.24.14

Giving to U.S. charities to exceed $450 billion

Total giving to U.S. charities in 2014 is projected to exceed $450 billion, or nearly 9 percent more than in 2013, a new report says.

Powering the increase is a continuing bull stock market, low interest rates, improving employment and a lack of inflation, says the Atlas of Giving.

Human-services groups, educational institutions and environmental causes posted the biggest gains in gift revenue, with each category showing double-digit growth, the report says.

Giving to health organizations and religious causes continues to grow, it says, but at slower rates than the growth in overall giving.

Giving to religion, which still gets the biggest share of giving, is expected decline one percentage point in 2014 to 33 percent.

Individuals account for 74 percent of total giving in the U.S., while foundations provide over $65 billion, up more than 12 percent from 2013 and representing the fastest-growing source of gifts.

Mead named vice president of development at Senior Services

Patricia Mead, director of annual funds and special events at Senior Services in Winston-Salem, has been named vice president of development.

Partnership gets grant for girls’ robotics team

A partnership between Winston-Salem-based Inmar, a technology company that provides intelligent commerce networks, Girl Scouts Peaks To Piedmont Council, has received a $6,000 matching grant from NASA and another $1,000 grant from Qualcomm for the All-Girls NC FIRST Robotics Team.

The grants will provide funding for the Piedmont Triad’s first-ever all-girl team to compete in the NC FIRST Robotics competition in March 2015.

The Inmar Foundation sponsors the All-Girls NC First Robotics Team and provides mentors who coach and guide the girls on building their competition robot and provides a place to build and house the team’s first robot.

Reading Connections offers volunteer training

Reading Connections in Greensboro will offer free orientation and training on January 13, 20 and 22 for individuals would like to become volunteer adult-literacy tutors. Sessions will be held in the Self Help Building at 122 North Elm St. in Greensboro.

To register, call Lydia Davis at 336.230.2223, or send e-mail to

Nonprofits, funders looking for community partnerships

By Todd Cohen

[Note: This was written for Triangle Community Foundation.]

DURHAM, N.C. — Fixing local problems can be tough.

Charities that focus on community issues can find their work slow, messy and fragmented. With limited resources, charities face growing competition for funding, as well as rising demand from donors to show and measure their impact.

And because they often focus on a single issue or group of issues, many charities are not positioned to address the underlying and interconnected causes of the broad range of complicated problems in their communities.

The way charities operate, however, is beginning to change. A small but growing number of charities and funders are starting to work together to make a “collective impact” on local problems.

The challenges facing charities and funders working on the issue of community development, and the solutions they are developing to address those challenges, was the focus of a recent meeting of Triangle Donors Forum.

“Nonprofits don’t work in silos,” said Katie Loovis, director of U.S. community partnerships and stakeholder engagement for GlaxoSmithKline, and a panelist at the Donors Forum, which was hosted by Triangle Community Foundation on November 20. Building healthy communities “requires each [nonprofit] working together,” as well as sectors working together, Loovis said.

Moderated by Farad Ali, president and CEO of the North Carolina Institute of Minority Economic Development and a member of the board of directors of Triangle Community Foundation, the Donors Forum was held at the Holton Career and Resource Center in Durham.

Building capacity

Strengthening the organizational capacity of nonprofits is the focus of a “People and Places” initiative Triangle Community Foundation launched this year that focuses on groups working on the issues of community development, youth literacy, land conservation, and the arts.

That initiative grew out of a two-year effort by the Foundation to assess its grantmaking with advice from donors, nonprofits and civic leaders from throughout the region. A key goal was to identify “community benchmarks” the Foundation could use to find ways to make a greater impact with the limited discretionary funds it invests in the community.

As a general funder that is a “proxy for so many donors, and a vast number of nonprofits,” and with “limited resources and a vast region and many microcosms of communities,” the Foundation wanted to find “that sweet spot of funders and nonprofits and volunteers where we start to chip away” at addressing pressing community needs, Lori O’Keefe, the Foundation’s president, told the Donors Forum.

While the Foundation’s community conversation initially focused on finding ways to improve the delivery of services, she said, it eventually shifted to the organizational capacity and infrastructure of nonprofits.

Recognizing the widespread need of local nonprofits to strengthen their operations so they could make a greater impact through the services they deliver, the Foundation decided to make capacity-building the focus of its discretionary grantmaking.

Partnerships key

Alice Lutz, CEO of Triangle Family Services and a panelist at the Donors Forum, said partnerships are critical to the impact of her organization, a 77-year-old agency that focuses on mental health, financial stability and family safety.

“It’s partnerships that make a difference,” she said.

But partnership also are challenging, she said, because “the work doesn’t stop” while staff members responsible for delivering services also are devoting time to building partnerships with funders and other agencies.

Maggie West, program coordinator for the Community Empowerment Fund in Chapel Hill and another panelist, said her organization depends on collaboration and partnerships “more than we depend on funding.”

The Community Empowerment Fund operates with 250 student volunteers from Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, pairing two students each with individuals who are homeless or at risk of being homeless. In 2015, it plans to add students from North Carolina Central University.

The students work to help each client focus on their goals in the areas of employment, housing and financial security.

“Communities are people that know each other and in relationship to each other can build mobility,” West said.

And while the organization’s volunteers, known as “advocates,” help their clients navigate through courts, housing agencies, health clinics, public-benefits systems and other agencies, “student volunteers are not going to be the experts,” she said. “So we depend on partnerships” with shelters, clinics, housing agencies, workforce development organizations and other groups.

Investing in collaboration

Loovis said many issues in a community are interconnected, and funders struggle to “change the way we fund and foster more collaboration” to address those issues.

“As the funding community, sometimes we get it all wrong,” she said. “The very things we have funded to create sometimes exacerbate the very things we don’t want to see.”

While they may “know fostering a healthy community requires addressing a broader array of factors,” she said, funders may opt to fund individual nonprofits, in effect forcing nonprofits to compete with one another for funding rather than encouraging them to work together.

Funders also tend to invest in short-term programs, even though fixing complex problems can take longer.

“How do we fund things and recognize this isn’t a one-year deal, change the funding stream and realize this is a long-term approach,” she said.

And while funders “want nonprofits to show outcomes,” she said, funders may not be providing the funding nonprofits need to evaluate their work.

GlaxoSmithKline wants to change the way it funds nonprofits, and is working with Triangle Community Foundation to “figure out how not just to fund one nonprofit but groups working together,” possibly with “more than one business funder at the table,” she said.

“If we do want healthy communities, this is complicated work,” she said, “and we do all have some room to improve.”

Incentives for partnerships

Bob Johnston, who is founder and executive director of Global Vaccines, a nonprofit in Morrisville, and attended the Donors Forum, suggested that philanthropic funders that want to invest in solutions to complex community problems might take the approach of agencies like the National Institutes of Health that fund scientific research.

His own university labs once operated like “an island,” said Johnston, a former professor of microbiology at North Carolina State University and former professor of microbiology and immunology at the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“You wrote a grant, got funding, and there was competition, and actually drives a lot of innovation,” he said. “But as science has moved forward, the goals are too big for individual labs.”

So the NIH now issues “calls for proposals” that spell out a big goal, knowing that “no one entity can satisfy that goal,” said Johnston, who created a donor advised fund at Triangle Community Foundation.

It then becomes “incumbent on people applying for funding to assemble the consortia that are important to whatever that goal is,” he said.

So if philanthropic funders want to set an ambitious goal for addressing a community problem, they can issue a call for proposals that will give community groups “an incentive to organize themselves” to apply for funding, he said, “Having it come from the ground up could be a real advance. It would be up to individual people and agencies to come up with consortia and the groups that can do it. Your decision the would be who can do it best.”


Lutz said nonprofits working in the area of human services have “little room for mistakes.”

While nonprofits ought to be able to learn from and build on initiatives that don’t work, she said, “funders move on to another organization.”

The challenge is to find ways to pilot new programs, “identify mistakes, and then turn to funders and in partnership move through that system,” she said.

What is needed, she said, is “coopertition,” or a combination of cooperation and competition.

Loovis said there is a “push-pull” between funders and nonprofits.

“In some ways, nonprofits are ahead of us,” she said. “In some ways, funders are a little ahead of nonprofits.”

When GlaxoSmithKline decided to pursue a strategy known as “collective impact,” she said, it wanted to invest $500,000 each in tackling community problems in two communities in other parts of the U.S.

It assumed local nonprofits in each community were ready for a collective impact strategy “and we would come in and work and learn from them,” she said,

One of the communities already had a strong funding community, largely because of several big funders, she said, but that philanthropic infrastructure was lacking in the other community “and we really struggled as a funder.”

So instead of making a collective impact investment in the second community, GlaxoSmithKline shifted gears and is considering making a planning grant to pave way for a collective impact initiative.

Collaboration and mergers

Haywood Holderness, who is pastor emeritus at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Durham and attended the Donors Forum, said the Triangle is “ripe for more collaboration and mergers among nonprofits.”

The number of nonprofits in Durham, for example, has soared and now is many times the state average on a per-capita basis, yet many nonprofits operate in silos, he said.

But with the Baby Boomer generation of nonprofit founders retiring, the time is ideal for funders “to talk to nonprofits about more collaboration or even mergers,” he said. “You guys can make that happen.”

Steve Toler, who is a public relations and communications consultant, former vice president for public affairs in North Carolina for Verizon, and attended the Donors Forum, said the business community was “light years ahead of nonprofits” in mergers and acquisitions.

“We’re not seeing that” in the nonprofit sector, he said.

Lutz said mergers require mediators and investment from funders to provide incentives to nonprofits to talk about merging and give them the time needed to pursue merger conversations while continuing to serve clients.

As part of its People and Places initiative, Triangle Community Foundation is working to better understand and address the challenges of building the capacity of nonprofits to address pressing community issues.

“We know all our donors are not ready to fund that capacity-building infrastructure…yet,” O’Keefe said.

Nonprofit news roundup, 12.19.14

Report tracks child well-being throughout North Carolina

Young people in North Carolina have the greatest likelihood for success in Orange, Union, Wake, Cabarrus and Camden counties but are most at risk in Anson, Halifax, Northampton, Edgecombe and Robeson counties, a new report says.

The makeup of the top five counties is unchanged from last year, while Northampton replaced Scotland County in the bottom five this year, according to Roadmap of Need, a report from the Center for Afterschool Programs at the Public School Forum of North Carolina.

The annual report, launched in 2010, uses data on health, youth behavior and safety, education, and economic development to assess the relative well-being of young people living in each of the state’s 100 counties.

While the report at first glance points to counties in eastern North Carolina as those most at risk, the Public School Forum says, the nature of countywide indicators often masks variation within counties, particularly populous urban counties in which “neighborhoods that alone would fare well” based on indicators the report tracks “can exist in close proximity to neighborhoods with many young people in need.”

Strategies to boost donors’ gifts focus of new research

A handful of new research efforts find donors will give more when charities promote a gift from a well-known donor, advertise gifts from all donors, assure donors the organization already has secured donations to cover overhead costs, or make human and direct contact with donors during holiday appeals at retail outlets, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Charlotte arts groups merging

Charlotte Children’s Choir will merge with Community School of the Arts, effective Jan. 1, 2015. The Choir will become part of the school and its choral program will keep the name Charlotte Children’s Choir.

The Children’s Choir, which was founded in 1986 and serves children ages eight to 18 through three choirs, will continue under the artistic direction of Heather Potter.

The School, founded in 1969, instructs nearly 4,000 students a year in music and visual arts through private lessons, group classes, workshops, summer camps, and outreach programs.

Sisters of Mercy of North Carolina Foundation gives $1.8 million

Sisters of Mercy of North Carolina Foundation awarded grants totaling $1.8 million to 42 nonprofits.

Of the 42 grants, 20 were in the area of social services totaling $743,368; 14 went to education for a total of $632,397; and eight were health-care related totaling $428,863.

Since 1996, the Sisters of Mercy of North Carolina Foundation has awarded 1,575 grants totaling over $70 million to organizations serving unserved or underserved populations.

Victory Junction names CEO

Chad Coltrane, CEO of The Ability Experience in Charlotte, formerly Push America, has been named president and CEO of Victory Junction, a camp in Randleman for children with serious medical conditions.

Since 2004, when it was formed by the Petty family in the wake of the death of NASCAR driver Adam Petty, Victory Junction has serve over 21,000 children ages six to 16 and and their families at no cost to campers or their families.

Barrett joins Cone Health

Pam Barrett, principal consultant and owner of P Barrett & Associates, has been named senior development officer at Cone Health in Greensboro.

CareRing taps community manager

Public relations consultant Simone McDowell joined CareRing in Charlotte community manager. She will handle marketing and communication needs for the organization.

Wake Salvation Army to distribute clothing, toys to kids

With community support, $10,000 from an anonymous donor, and the help of 700 volunteers, the Salvation Army of Wake County will distribute clothing and toys at its Christmas Center at 2116-D New Bern Avenue in Raleigh over three days to more than 8,800 children in over 3,900 families at its Christmas Center.

Tanger Factory Outlet Centers raise $1.3 million to fight breast cancer

Greensboro-based Tanger Factory Outlet Centers raised over $1.3 million to help in the fight against breast cancer during the 21st annual Tanger PinkSTYLE Campaign.

The company will donate $750,000 to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and $550,000 to breast cancer organizations in local communities throughout the U.S. that Tanger Outlet centers serve.

HandyCapable Network awarded grant

HandyCapable Network in Greensboro has been awarded a grant from the Cemala Foundation. Funds from the grant will cover the cost of 125 refurbished computers and initial training from HandyCapable for low-income students at McNair Elementary School in Greensboro.

Duke gets $1.5 million commitment

William McCutchen Jr. and his wife, Irene Lilly McCutchen, both graduates of Duke University have committed $1.5 million to endow a professorship at Duke Divinity School. McCutcheon, former director of communications for Eli Lilly and Company, recently retired as a professor of management at the Zicklin School of Business in Baruch College at the City University of New York.

Discovery Place reducing admission cost for low-income families

Discovery Place  in Charlotte is launching a program that will reduce the cost of admission to $1 per person for families who present electronic-benefit-transfer or women-infants-and-children cards at Discovery Place, Charlotte Nature Museum or Discovery Place KIDS in Huntersville or Rockingham, for up to six family members.

Prevention Partners names three board members

Prevention Partners has named three Durham residents to its board of directors, including Peter Chauncey,  president of the Carolinas market for Aetna; Mark Dessauer, director of communications for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation; and Chris Skowronek, senior vice president for business development for the North Carolina Hospital Association.

Marion retires from Senior Services; board members named

Holly Marion has retired as vice president of development at Senior Services in Winston-Salem.

Sandra P. Adams has been elected chair of the nonprofit’s board of directors, and Marilyn Broyhill Beach, a community volunteer, and Bill Benton, chairman and CEO of Salem Senior Housing, have been named to the board.

Joining the Senior Services Foundation, a supporting organization of Senior Services, are Chris Chapman, president of the Chapman Company, and Dale E. Driscoll, president and CEO of the Driscoll Group.

John Rex Endowment names board chair, new board members

Jill Wright of Wake Health Services New Bern Ridge Pediatrics, has been elected chair of the board of directors of the John Rex Endowment in Raleigh.

New board members include Russell Killen, partner and litigation department chair for Parker Poe; Dexter V. Perry, president and CEO of The Providence Group of North Carolina; Walker Wilson, director of health policy for Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina; and M. Carter Worthy, president of Carter Worthy Commercial.

Pat’s Place gets matching challenge

Pat’s Place, a child advocacy center in Charlotte, has received a challenge from the Leon Levine Foundation. The Charlotte foundation has agreed to match, dollar for dollar, up to a total of $30,000 from first-time donors to Pat’s Place, from existing donors who increase their contribution this year, or from any donor who has not given to Pat’s Place since 2012.

National Christian Foundation of Raleigh posts year-end results

National Christian Foundation of Raleigh says it expects its grants in 2014 to total $13 million, bringing to more than $65 million the grants it has made since it was formed in 2005, and will have worked with donors to create 80 new funds.

Create your content before designing your nonprofit’s website

Form follows function.

That classic principle of design suggests that, in planning your nonprofit’s website, you first figure out what you want it do and say before hiring a web firm to design or redesign it.

Your website should advance your goals and reach the audiences you need to reach to meet those goals.

So figure out who you want your website to reach, the information you want to them to find there, and the actions you want them to take.

As a nonprofit, you likely want to raise awareness of the need you address. You want to  inform donors about your work, the people you serve, and the difference you make in their lives. And you want to engage people who will get involved and support you.

So before you start talking to web firms to design or redesign your website, think about the story your want your site to tell and how you want to organize that story.

Then create the content. It should include a simple narrative that says who you are, how you work, and your impact. Explain the need you address. Talk about the people you serve and how your work helps them improve their lives. Create profiles of your donors and partners. And write short appeals inviting visitors to get involved and support you.

Only then should you hire a web firm. The expertise of design firms typically is web design, not your cause or how most effectively to tell your story. If you ask a web firm to take on the job of writing and organizing what you want to say on your web site, you will add a lot of time and expense to what the firm already will charge just to design the look, feel and technical functions of your website.

Be smart. You know your cause, your goals and your audience better than anyone. Create and organize your own content first, and only then ask a web firm to design a website based on the story you have created and your plan for telling it.

Form follows function. And the function of your website should be rooted in your goals, the audiences you want to reach and the story you want to tell.

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

Big Brothers Big Sisters matches kids with adult mentors

By Todd Cohen

MORRISVILLE, N.C. — When Kimberly Breeden was 16, her mother was murdered. Just a week shy of her 39th birthday, Dora Locklear Breeden had had a passion for children but had left her job as an elementary school teacher to work in the convenience store her husband owned. She was killed in the store.

Breeden says her salvation after that devastating loss was a woman family friend who stepped into her life as a mentor. That experience led her to devote her life to kids, says Breeden, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Triangle.

“My career has always been in the the direction of serving children,” she says.

At North Carolina Wesleyan College in Rocky Mount, she studied business and physical education, modeling her course of  study “toward being able to run an organization that served children.”

Her first job was working as youth director for YWCA Greensboro, running its after-school programs, then she served as director of operations for the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Clubs in High Point before working as executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs in Greensboro and then in Lee County.

In 2002, she was named executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Durham and Orange County, which merged in October 2005 with YMCA Big Brothers Big Sisters a program of YMCA of the Triangle, to form Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Triangle.

Operating with an annual budget of $1.1 million, a staff of 16 people and a core of 700 adult volunteers, the Morrisville nonprofit serves nearly 1,000 “littles” a year, including 700 who are matched with adult “bigs,” and 275 who are on a waiting list but participate in fitness activities ranging from rock-climbing and hiking to walking, running, cooking and “game night.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters spends most of its effort screening children and adults who want to be in the program, matching them, and then supporting those matches. Children ages six to 14 may apply, and can stay matched until they graduate from high school.

The screening process is comprehensive and finding a match can take 60 days for adults, four to six months for girls and up to a year for boys.

“We don’t have as many male volunteers as females,” says Breeden, who has served as a volunteer Big Sister in Greensboro and in the Triangle. “That is our need as an organization — male volunteers.”

Of the 700 children now matched with adults, 58 percent are girls and 42 percent are boys.

For kids and their parents or caregivers, the screening process includes detailed interviews; placement on a ready-to-be matched list; a meeting with matching staff from the agency and volunteers who have gone through their own screening process and selected up to three children they would like to work with — without knowing their identities and based on profiles the agency prepares; and signing an agreement that binds the relationship and spells out goals and commitments.

For adults, the screening process includes completing an application form; undergoing an extensive background check; a two-hour orientation; online training that takes four to five hours; an interview that takes 90 minutes to two hours; references checks; and placement on a ready-to-be-matched list.

With the loss of a federal grant that had enabled it to serve 150 to 200 children of incarcerated parents a year, Big Brothers Big Sisters is working to diversify its board, and increase the donations its members make and the dollars they help raise.

The agency launched a special board campaign this year that set a goal of $100,000, asking each member to give $1,000 and raise another $4,000. The effort has raised $80,000 and is on track to meet its goal by the end of the year, Breeden says.

Ultimately, she says, pairing adult volunteers with kids pays off for the kids, she says.

“They do better in school,” she says. “We keep them out of the juvenile justice system. There are no teen pregnancies with our organization. Our bigs really engage themselves in these kids’ lives.”