Keep your board in the know

A nonprofit’s board of directors must play many roles, yet many boards lack the information they need to do their job effectively.

So make sure your staff gives your board a steady flow of the clear, substantive information it needs.

A board must govern the nonprofit, set its direction, hire and supervise the executive director,  oversee finances and investments, and assist in fundraising.

Yet, other than an orientation session for new members, regular meetings that often involve little more than routine discussions, and possibly an annual retreat, boards typically are not plugged into the daily life of the organization.

That disconnection can lead to dysfunction and serious problems. If a board is not aware of what actually is going on, often because the executive director is the board’s only source of information, what might begin as seemingly minor problems involving staff morale or shortfalls in finances or fundraising, for example, can spin out of control and put the organization at serious risk.

And if it is not well-versed and kept up to speed on all aspects of the nonprofit — from the need it addresses and the people it serves to the programs it delivers and the difference it makes to its constituents — the board will be of little use in setting long-term goals and strategies, helping the executive director address organizational challenges, or providing connections to prospective donors and raising money.

Equipping the board to do its job requires clear, continual communication from the staff.

So keep board members informed and up to date about the organization, and prepared to  talk about it.

Give them your nonprofit’s basic story, including the need you address, the people and places you serve, the programs you deliver, and the difference you make.

Help them understand your donors, what they care about, and how supporting your nonprofit will address community needs while advancing the donors’ own values.

Set aside time at every board meeting to talk about key organizational issues, to get feedback on them from board members, and to give them an opportunity to practice telling your nonprofit’s story.

And make sure that, before joining the board, prospective members are fully versed in the many roles they will be expected to play.

For your nonprofit to thrive, you need a board that is informed, engaged and prepared to tell your story.

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

Food trailer aims to give ex-prisoners second chance

By Todd Cohen

DURHAM, N.C. — When Drew Doll managed Just a Clean House, a transitional home in Durham for men getting out of prison, he found that just over half the residents returned to prison, and those who were able to land “under-the-table” work as day laborers had a tough time getting stable employment.

And as an accountant for the Durham Economic Resource Center, an agency that provides job training and development for people who face high barriers to employment, he saw that employment agencies typically focus on filling jobs, not on “how to get jobs for people who are hard to employ.”

So he started thinking about how to “create an organization designed to employ people where a criminal conviction is what you have to have coming in the door.”

His solution is Second Helpings, an initiative developed by three partner groups to provide jobs and support services for men and women after they leave prison.

The effort is modeled on Homeboy Industries, a Los Angles nonprofit that a Jesuit priest founded in 1984 to provide jobs and education as an alternative for gang members.

According to a study at UCLA, 70 percent of Homeboy Industries clients who complete an 18-month employment program stay out of prison and find jobs, compared to the 70 percent of the men and women exiting the California prison system who return.

In Durham, in comparison, among the estimated 600 to 700 men and women who return from prison every year, 80 percent of them lack education credentials and practical work experience and, after a  year, 60 percent still do not have jobs.

Partners in Second Helpings include the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham, a volunteer-based group that provides 12 “faith teams” that each partners one-on-one for at least a year with an individual getting out of prison; the Durham County Criminal Justice Resource Center, a county agency that provides case managers and support services for former prisoners; and Core Catering, a catering company that provides lunch for the Religious Coalition’s monthly meetings and its biweekly dinners for families of victims of violence, and uses its excess food to package and freeze meals that volunteers deliver each week to people in need, including families of victims of violent crimes.

Second Helpings needs $25,000 to buy and equip a food trailer and cover its first two to three months of operating costs. It is seeking startup support from foundations and companies, particularly in the food-service industry, and expects to be self-sustaining after three months.

As one of five semifinalists in a competition sponsored by Triangle Community Foundation that attracted over 50 collaborative proposals for innovative solutions to community needs, Second Helpings was awarded a $7,000 grant.

The goal, Doll says, is to provide jobs, training and support to help prepare former prisoners for permanent employment.

Each person Second Helpings employs will be less likely to return to prison, will save the state the $30,000 annual cost of maintaining a person in prison, and will add to the pool of prospective employees for local food-service jobs, Doll says.

“Businesses in food services and hospitality tend to have high employee turnover, largely because many of the people they hire don’t know how to keep a job,” he says.

Marcia Owen, executive director of the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham, says the key to the collaborative effort will be linking ex-prisoners with resources and support.

“Research shows the greatest risk to recidivism is not having connections,” she says. “It is the relationships of equality and respect and dignity that keep us safe.”

Patricia Jenkins Eder, owner of Core Catering, says Second Helpings can be “a launching pad for people re-entering the workforce, giving them the opportunity to maintain a stable position in a company that then can lead them to other opportunities.”

McNeil-Miller to head Colorado Health Foundation

By Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Karen McNeil-Miller, president of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust in Winston-Salem, has been named president and CEO of the Colorado Health Foundation in Denver, effective September 1.

Allen Smart, vice president of programs at the Reynolds Trust, will serve as interim president, starting September 1, while Wells Fargo, the Trust’s sole trustee, leads the search for a new president.

With $585 million in assets, the Reynolds Trust is one of North Carolina’s largest foundations.

Formed in 1947 through the will of Kate B. Reynolds, the widow of a chairman of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the foundation focuses one-fourth of its assets on the poor and needy in Forsyth County, and three-fourths on health programs and services throughout North Carolina.

Its poor-and-needy grants total roughly $6 million a year, and its health grants total roughly $20 million a year.

The Colorado Health Foundation, with $2.3 billion in assets, awarded over $112 million in grants and contributions in 2014 to improve health and health care in Colorado.

Former teacher

McNeil-Miller joined the Reynolds Trust as president in January 2005 after working for 16 years at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, where she served as vice president for corporate resources and, for six years in the 1990s, headed its office in Colorado Springs.

She was raised in Spindale in Rutherford County, the daughter of a carpenter and a weaver in local mills. A former special education teacher and head of The Piedmont School, an independent school in High Point for children with learning differences, McNeill-Miller is the first non-banker, woman and African American to have headed the Reynolds Trust.

Making an impact

During her tenure, she says, the Trust has shifted from “a charity model and investing in activities to a change model and investing in impact.”

While it previously might have funded efforts to increase the number of people enrolled in programs to train them to manage their diabetes, or to treat people who already had a disease, for example, its investments now focus on how many people enrolled in diabetes-management programs actually lower their blood-sugar rating, or on preventing disease rather than treating it.

A key focus of its health investments is “helping people understand how to eat better, the value of exercise, movement, diet, the built environment, walking trails, as opposed to making sure people can get to dialysis treatment or could get their medicine after they already have chronic illness,” she says.

Systemic change

The Trust, which has 14 staff members, nearly double the total when McNeill-Miller joined the foundation, also has undertaken two big initiatives to give people with little or no income greater opportunities, respectively, to improve their health and their learning.

Both efforts aim to produce systemic change through community-based strategies that are designed for individual communities and count on state and national partners and “best practices” from multiple disciplines and sectors, in addition to local partners and those in health and education.

The Trust’s Health Care Division is investing $100 million to $150 million, or roughly $10 million a year, to improve health in 10 to 15 of the state’s most economically-distressed and health-distressed counties.

And its Poor and Needy Division is investing $30 million to $45 million, or roughly $3 million a year, to make sure every child in a family with financial need is ready for kindergarten and school, and meets every developmental milestone by the end of kindergarten.

That spending, which will grow over time as the Trust’s assets grow through income on investments, McNeil-Miller says, represents roughly half the funds each of the two divisions makes in grants each year.

The big challenges for the Trust, she says, will be “to sustain those efforts, learn as we go, and make appropriate mid-course corrections, and really be able to evaluate our results and tell that story, not only for our own organization, but also for the benefit of communities, legislators and other funders.”

Community focus

During McNeil-Miller’s tenure, the Trust also:

* Expanded Federally Qualified Health Clinics throughout the state to ensure financially disadvantaged residents, especially in rural areas, had access to quality health care.

* Enlisted local funders after computer problems blocked access to food assistance for hundreds of local families, an effort that led to a new coalition of local food funders to look at more effective ways to provide food to families in need.

* Established an effort during the economic downturn to provide basic operating funds to community organizations with small budgets in Forsyth County.

* Invested in major capital improvements in Forsyth County at Family Services, Samaritan Industries and Winston-Salem State University, and across the state at rural playgrounds, schools and community centers.

‘Vision and leadership’

“Karen’s outstanding vision and leadership are shaping how, why and where the Trust  invests for years to come,” Sandra Shell, senior vice president and chief operating officer for philanthropic services at Wells Fargo, says in a statement.

“Karen joined the Trust at a time that its work needed focus and creative thinking, and Karen delivered,” Shell says. “Thanks to her leadership, the Trust is making smarter, more thoughtful investments in communities with an eye on long-term impact.”

Nonprofit news roundup, 05.08.15

Wilson Heart Walk raises $135,000

The American Heart Association attracted over 400 people on April 15 and raised over $135,000 to reduce heart disease and stroke, up $10,000 from 2014, at its annual Wilson Heart Walk at the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf.

Bill Caldwell, CEO of Wilson Medical Center, will chair the event  in 2016.

Merritt new exec at Charlotte CROP Hunger Walk

Shay Merritt, community development coordinator at Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina in Charlotte, has been named executive director at Charlotte CROP Hunter Walk (NC).

Forsyth Futures names executive director

Dan Barbara, former executive director of the Colorado River Indian Tribes Department of Health and Social Services, has been named executive director of Forsyth Futures.

Law joins Blumenthal Performing Arts

Chase Law, vice president for development at Discovery Place in Charlotte, has been named director of development operations at Blumenthal Performing Arts in Charlotte.

Thompson moves from N.C. State to UNC-Wilmington

Kevin Thompson, donor and prospect assistant at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at North Carolina State University, has been named director of development for major gifts at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

Brewer joins North Carolina Community Foundation

Angie Brewer, president-elect of the Junior League of Wilmington and former community affairs specialist for PPD, has joined the North Carolina Community Foundation as a regional associate for the state’s southeast region.

Band Together NC hires program manager

Fraley Marshall, an event consultant for the Raleigh Hall of Fame and previously interim director for the Greater Raleigh Sports Council, has been named program manager for Band Together NC.

Warren-Barbour named interim senior VP at Triangle United Way

Allison Warren-Barbour, vice president of resource development at United Way of the Greater Triangle, has been named interim senior vice president of resource development.

Tomorrow Fund gets $30,000 challenges

Diane Lanevi, founding board member of the Tomorrow Fund for Hispanic Students, has pledged $20,000, and another board member has pledged $10,000, to provide a dollar-for-dollar match up to a combined total of $30,000 for any donations received before May 31.

Last year, the Fund awarded $133,000 in scholarships to 16 students across North Carolina.  

Golf event to benefit Surry Community College Foundation

The 19th Annual Surry Community College Foundation Golf Tournament will be held May 21 at Cross Creek Country Club in Mount Airy.

The Foundation, which has raised $794,000 from the event over its 18-year history, has renamed it in memory of Pat G. Woltz and Bobby R. Harold, who were veteran members of the Foundation’s board of directors and golf tournament committee.

Harold served as the tournament co-chairman since the tournament’s inception.

Third-grade reading proficiency goal of campaign

The North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation has been named the lead organization for the state by the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a collaborative effort by foundations, nonprofit partners, business leaders, government agencies, states and communities across the U.S.

As the state lead, NCECF will support North Carolina’s existing local campaigns to improve third-grade reading outcomes and work with new communities to join the effort.

It also will convene state leaders to develop a coordinated strategy based on research, data and best practices to define, fund and put into place policies to ensure that children in the state are reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

Second annual WakeMed Farmers Market opens

The second annual WakeMed Farmers Market at Raleigh Campus, co-managed by WakeMed and Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, opened on May 5 and will be held again May 19 and then from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Tuesday from June through August.

The Food Shuttle was awarded a two-year, $90,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help bring fresh fruits and vegetables into ‘food desert’ areas such as southeast Raleigh. 

The grant also encourages markets to support vendors who are minorities, new to farming or economically disadvantaged and who grow their produce within a 100-mile region surrounding the market.

The market will bring fresh foods to the more than 5,000 employees, 300 volunteers, and thousands of patients and visitors who come to WakeMed’s Raleigh Campus on a daily basis. 

WDAV sets $100,000 goal

Classical Public Radio 89.9 WDAV in Davidson and Charlotte aims to raise $100,000 by June 30, including an on-air drive that will run through June 5.

Two North Carolina youths honored for volunteerism

Davis Dawson of Concord, N.C., and Samuel Park of Charlotte were among youth volunteers from throughout the U.S. who received The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, including $1,000 each, at an event at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Dawson, 17, a junior at Jay M. Robinson High School, raised over $43,000 and led the efforts of over 200 volunteers to build a new house for a single mother and her four children through Habitat for Humanity.

Park, 12, a seventh-grader at Harris Road Middle School, operates a video transfer service to raise funds for orphans in Kenya and Uganda, and delivers e-book “libraries” – Kindles loaded with up to 1,200 titles – to orphanages, schools and youth centers in those countries and South Africa, as well as public schools and youth centers in the U.S.,

Baseball game to benefit homelessness group

Partners Ending Homelessness will benefit from a share of ticket sales at the 7th Annual Home Run for Homelessness, to be held May 17 at NewBridge Bank Park in Greensboro for the game between the Greensboro Grasshoppers and Delmarva Shorebirds.

The event also aims to raise awareness about homelessness in Guilford County and to highlight local resources to assist individuals and families experiencing homelessness.

Transitions LifeCare adds board members, elects officers

Transitions LifeCare has elected four new members to its board of directors, including  Timothy Perkins, a principal at Deloitte; Steven Lyons, president of Steven L. Lyons Funeral Home; Robin Simonton, executive director of Historic Oakwood Cemetery; and Poonam Aneja, a community volunteer.

Beth Black, assistant professor of nursing at the School of Nursing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has been elected board president, and Charles Hodges, principal at Insight Advocacy, has been elected vice president.

New North Carolina foundation to award monthly grants

The Foundation for Do! says it will award $1,000 grants each month starting in June.

The foundation was created by Kel Landis, co-founder of Plexus Capital, an investment firm in Raleigh and Charlotte.

Piedmont Natural Gas Foundation accepting grant requests

Piedmont Natural Gas Foundation is accepting online applications until June 30 for its 2015 Environmental Stewardship and Energy Sustainability Competitive Grant Program.

Partnership to provide art education to kids

Carolinas HealthCare Foundation and Arts For Life are partnering to provide art education to children at Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte.

Keep your strategy clear

Where is your nonprofit headed and how do you plan to get there?

The strategic plan you create to tell that story should be short, to the point, and easy to understand.

Your plan should spell out the need you address, and the people and places you serve.

It should describe — simply — what you do, how you do it, the challenges you face as an organization, what you propose to do, and the difference you will make.

It should give the reasons, supported by research, facts and clear logic, that lead you to believe you will show success.

And it should identify the indicators you will use to measure your success, and should quantify the success you expect to show.

If you have partners, say who they are, how you work together, and why working together will help you better deliver programs and services.

Provide a budget summary that shows your projected costs and revenue, and makes it easy for anyone to see at a glance where you will be getting and spending your money.

And describe how you will raise money and secure other resources, how much revenue you will generate, who you expect to support you, and why you will be able to raise money and generate revenue.

Your plan also should include a short history of your organization, and clear, brief, jargon-free statements of your vision, or your dream for the community you serve, and your mission, or your role in making that dream come true.

Keep your use of data or graphics, if any, to a minimum, and use them only to make or illustrate a point.

And take the time needed to make sure your staff and board understand your plan, can explain it clearly and simply, and will use it to inform their daily work.

Your strategic plan, like a user-friendly map, should make it easy for your board, staff, donors and other partners to see where you are going and how you will get there.

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

Collaboration, flexibility seen key to change

By Todd Cohen

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

RALEIGH, N.C. — Sustaining the Triangle’s growth and making it a better place will depend on how well individuals and organizations can adapt to sweeping, rapid change and work together to fix the region’s most pressing social problems.

That message was the focus of What Matters, an event hosted by Triangle Community Foundation on April 1 at the Raleigh Convention Center.

Struggling in prosperity

The Triangle is home to stark contrasts, leaders of Triangle Community Foundation told the 450 civic and business leaders from throughout the Triangle at the event.

“In the midst of prosperity, many among us struggle daily to survive and thrive,” said Lacy Presnell III, chair of the Foundation’s board of directors and a lawyer at Raleigh firm Burns, Day & Presnell.

Lori O’Keefe, the Foundation’s president, said the Triangle is the fastest-growing region in the U.S. and ranks fourth in economic growth. Raleigh is the sixth-most-affordable city to live in, Durham is among the 10 most-educated cities, and the region’s quality of life ranks highest in the U.S., she said.

Yet four in 10 public-school students in the region are enrolled in a program for lunch that is free or at a reduced price, one in five children live in poverty, and nearly half of all home renters spend 30 percent or more of their incomes on housing costs, she said. And nearly one in five public school students who enter ninth grade do not graduate in four years, she said, while people of color earn $7 less an hour than whites.

“As proud as we are of this region,” she said, “we must not lose sight of the real challenges we face as we continue to grow.”

Framework for change

Making change happen requires “crystal clear direction about where we’re headed,” motivation for the emotional side of the brain, and the need to “shape the path,” make it easy to “get to from point A to point B, remove the obstacles, create a culture conducive to change,” author Dan Heath, senior fellow at the Center for Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at Duke University, said in his keynote speech at the event.

He cited a Stanford University study of a food drive in a single dormitory there. Testing the hypothesis that “there are nice people and they give, and there are jerks and they don’t,” the study canvassed the dorm to rank all students from the most to least kind.

Then it tested two versions of a letter promoting the food drive, with one version providing only basic instructions, and the other suggesting that, if students could not figure out what or how to donate, they should bring a can of beans and pick a time to drop off the can.

The second version provided a map showing where to drop off the donation. Among students who received the basic instructions, eight percent of the those identified as “saints” in the canvas and none identified as “jerks” donated food.

Among those who received the detailed instructions, 42 percent of the “saints” and 25 percent of the “jerks” made a donation.

Those findings suggest the food drive was “three times better off betting on a jerk with a map than a saint without one,” Heath said.

In times of change, he said, people are quick to put people “in buckets,” treating them as “saints and jerks,” he said.

“A crucial lesson for leaders of change,” he said, is that “when the path around us changes, people change, so we’ve got to be thoughtful about shaping the path.”

Shaping the path

A key to finding effective solutions to change is to “get better at meeting people where they are, shaping the path for them, not shaping the path” preferred by many advocates of change, Heath said.

He described a challenge faced at the airport in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, where the men’s room had a problem with “spillage” that was “caused by poor aim.”

After considering a range of solutions, the committee decided to hire an artist who etched the likeness of a black housefly into every urinal in the men’s room.

Suggesting that the male psyche tended to see a target around the etching, which served as the bull’s eye, Heath said spillage in the men’s room immediately fell by 90 percent.

“We’ve got to shape the path to make change a little easier,” he said.

Bright spots

The social sector often gets so bogged down focusing on its ideal goal that it sometimes fails to see what is real and can lead to an effective solution, Heath said.

In the 1970s, he said, Jerry Sternin, director of Save the Children in Vietnam, wanted to fight child nutrition. Rather than address the problem’s root causes by trying to reform the education system, cure poverty and provide access to clean water, Heath said, Sternin focused on how families in a single village actually were feeding their children.

First, he identified which children in the village were well-nourished for their age, then watched how their parents prepared meals.

Most families in the village served their children two bowls of white rice a day, but the “bright-spot” mothers divided the same amount of rice into more meals during the day, making it easier for their children to digest more rice at each meal.

Sternin invited the “bright-spot” mothers to share the way they were preparing meals with other mothers in the village. Six months later, two-thirds of children in the village were better nourished. And after word of the success spread, leaders of other villages traveled to learn how the mothers in the village were preparing food.

Eventually, the more effective approach reached over 2.2 million Vietnamese in 265 villages, Heath said.

Sternin “did not cure child malnutrition in Vietnam,” Heath said. “But he put an enormous dent in the problem with a meager budget, and never solved any of the problems allegedly responsible for child malnutrition. That’s the power of looking at bright spots.”

So rather than “spending all your time obsessing about problems,” he said, community leaders should “steal some time to think about successes.”

Working together

The problems communities are trying to tackle, Heath said, are “daunting, long-standing, will not yield to easy solutions.”

And while it may not be apparent from day to day, he said, big changes do take place over time.

“Nothing great is ever accomplished easily,” he said. “But together, we’ll make it possible.”