Latin American Coalition grows to meet demand

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In 2011, a group of six high school students from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools interrupted a speech by President Obama at the annual conference of the National Council of La Raza, the leading Hispanic civil rights and advocacy group in the U.S.

The students, volunteers with the Charlotte-based Latin American Coalition, were protesting the deportation and the resulting separation of immigrant families.

In June, Obama announced federal action to grant temporary status for some undocumented young immigrants, effective August 15.

“The new deferral is a step in the right direction for a permanent solution,” says Jess George, executive director of the Latino American Coalition.

Formed in 1990 to provide direct services to Latinos, the Coalition has grown dramatically, expanding the services it provides to meet rising demand, and also emerging in recent years as a leading statewide advocate for Latinos.

Operating with an annual budget of $1.1 million and a staff of 17 people, the Coalition provides direct serves to 8,000 people a year through its Immigrant Welcome Center, an effort launched in 2011 that provides crisis and support services for immigrant families, regardless of their documentation status.

In August, recognizing the work it does through the Welcome Center, the National Council of La Raza honored the Coalition with its 2012 Family Strengthening Award.

Creation of the Center reflected a strategy at the Coalition to integrate the direct services it provides to Latinos, George says.

Charlotte’s Latino population, currently 150,000, has grown at least 1,500 percent in the two decades since the Coalition was formed, she says.

And in the eight years since she joined the Coalition, she says, its budget and staff have more than quadrupled.

The Coalition’s one-year-old Immigrant Welcome Center includes a crisis intervention network that represents formal partnerships with a broad range of crisis agencies such as Loaves and Fishes, and Crisis Assistance Ministry.

The Center handles the intake of families that need food, clothing and rental assistance, and then connects them with the agencies that can provide the services they need.

The Center also provides a desk once a week in the Coalition’s lobby for the Charlotte Mecklenburg Department of Social Services, which schedules appointments there for anyone eligible for any social service benefits.

The Center also provides a victims assistance program that serves mainly victims of domestic violence, of wage theft by employers who deny payment to immigrant workers, of consumer fraud and identity theft, and of human trafficking and hate crimes.

And it provides a neighbor-to-neighbor resource center, staffed by volunteers, that includes computers, phone books and maps that clients can use to learn more about the community and services that are available.

The work of the center is closely tied to two other Coalition programs, including support services for workers, and an immigration law clinic.

In addition to direct services, the Coalition has lobbied actively in the state legislature, helping to stop 19 of 20 pieces of legislation in 2011 that were “explicitly anti-immigrant,” George says.

It also employs a full-time electoral organizer and a full-time youth organizer, and is working this year to register 5,000 new Latino voters in the state.

And it held its annual Latin American Festival in October.

The Coalition, George says, is working to meet “the most critical and urgent challenges of immigrant integration in North Carolina.”

Long-term strategy seen as key to effective advocacy

To be effective, nonprofit advocates need to gear themselves for a long haul, be methodical, understand what drives public officials, build coalitions for the short term, and show strong leadership, a new study says.

Effective advocacy has become increasingly urgent in the face of a federal government committed to reducing the budget deficit by cutting spending, a weak economic recovery that “continues to leave millions of people without sufficient support,” a “deeply divided partisan Washington, D.C.,” and the landmark Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 that “lowered the barriers to participating in the political area for business and trade unions,” says the study by Independent Sector.

“Nonprofits face great challenges getting their voices heard,” Independent Sector says in a statement.

The study, “Beyond the Cause: The Art and Science of Successful Advocacy,” is based on over 100 interviews, three surveys, three case studies, a review of existing literature on advocacy and lobbying by charities, and research on publicly available information about 528 organizations’ engagement in sector-wide public policy issues.

The study found five strategic approaches were “common ingredients” in successful advocacy both for corporate and nonprofit lobbying groups:

* Sustain a “laser-like” focus on long-term goals.

It is common among the most successful groups engaged in advocacy in Washington, D.C., to set goals over 10, 20 or 25 years, the study says.

“Little can be accomplished in a year” unless there are extenuating circumstances, like a national crisis, or if years of planning have taken place and a chance opportunity is seized, it says.

* Prioritize building the elements for successful campaigns.

Successful advocates “constantly invest in relationships with public officials, deepening their understanding of the issues and of the legislative process,” the study says.

Those “building phases” include conducting research, developing policy solutions, building relationships with potential allies, testing key messages with targeting audiences, building out grassroots and “grass-tops” contacts, and “deeply understanding the priorities of public officials,” the study says.

That work is “time consuming, expensive, ongoing, and must be conducted by an organization with the ability to maintain the knowledge and relationships garnered throughout the process,” it says.

The most successful advocates, it says, were as active during the building phase as they were during the campaign phase.

* Consider the motivation of public officials.

Building relationships with public officials takes time, the study says, but “few investments are more valuable to achieving success in the public policy arena.”

Successful advocates, it says, invest a lot of time “in understanding the policy environment and the players, including a thorough knowledge of public officials’ backgrounds, family histories, connections, and the priorities of their constituents.”

* Galvanize coalitions to achieve short-term results.

Coalitions can help aggregate “diverse voices, skills sets and other assets necessary for advocacy,” the study says.

While successful organizations did not always use coalitions as their only vehicle for advancing their cause, it says, coalitions that were successful “tended to form around a specific issue at a given moment in time and disband once their goal had been achieved or retool for the next issue.”

Key to effective coalitions, it says, are “strong leadership, a shared vision, clear decision-making structures, and members who brought complementary assets to the table and who put some ‘skin in the game.'”

* Ensure strong, high-integrity leadership.

Successful advocacy groups are headed by individuals with “high integrity and transparency,” a reputation for “being an honest broker of information,” relationships that “reflect a level of trust between the leader” and colleagues and target audiences, and the “ability to articulate a compelling vision and mobilize people around it,” the study says.

Still, despite their successes, many organizations engaged in advocacy efforts that were “duplicative, uncoordinated, and did not maximize their combined assets,” the study says.

And in the face of escalating sector-wide challenges, it says, the sector should develop “shared, long-term goals,” increase the “number and depth” of relationships with a broader range of key public officials, improve coordination among organizations, and increase the “visibility and clout of the sector, particularly with government officials.”

The study calls for “strong leadership to organize the sector around a common agenda.”

With Congress set to look more closely at the charitable sector through tax reform in 2013, it says, the nonprofit and philanthropic sector should “align its efforts by creating a joint strategy that will enable organizations to better serve the growing needs of American communities.”

Todd Cohen

Domestic violence focus of campaign

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Chahnaz Kebaier, a researcher at UNC-Chapel Hill who died after being shot multiple times in the head and body while picking up her children at their elementary school on May 25, had been involved in an ongoing domestic dispute with her estranged husband, who has been charged with her murder.

Kebaier’s death was the 24th homicide attributed to domestic violence this year in North Carolina, which ranks 4th in the U.S. in homicides by men against women.

To raise awareness about domestic violence and about resources available to victims and perpetrators, a task force representing half-a-dozen organizations aims to raise $1 million in private funds to support a media campaign that will be piloted in Mecklenburg and Iredell counties in 2013.

The task force then would seek funding from state lawmakers in 2014 to help support a statewide campaign that also would be funded with private contributions.

“The incidence of domestic violence is often a hidden problem,” says Beth Briggs, executive director of the North Carolina Council for Women, a state agency that is a lead partner in the task force. “Families are fearful about speaking about it. And we want to provide an opportunity to create awareness and information to protect women and families across the state.”

Domestic violence, including sexual abuse, cuts across categories of race, religion, ethnicity, socio-economic status and age, says Jill Dinwiddie, a Charlotte resident who is co-chairing the fundraising effort to support the campaign and retired last November as executive director of the Council for Women.

But people tend to be reluctant to talk about domestic violence or to seek help for themselves or get involved to help victims, she says.

“We’re trying to raise awareness everywhere, among employees and educators, and with victims,” she says. “We want victims to know there are resources they can go to for help and support. We want perpetrators to become better educated about appropriate behaviors. And we want the community at large to assume responsibility for helping people that show symptoms of abuse.”

A woman is abused in the U.S every nine seconds, and domestic violence represent the number-one reason women and children become homeless in the U.S.

And intimate-partner violence is estimated to cost employers over $5 billion a year, with one study finding 54 percent of employees living with domestic violence missed at least three full days of work a month.

“Frequently, the workplace may be the last holdout for a woman who’s being abused, who puts makeup on bruises and doesn’t want anybody to know she’s in an abusive relationship,” says Dinwiddie, who co-chairs the fundraising effort.

Jenny Ward, board chair for the Council for Women and sustainability engagement manager at Duke Energy, says the public-awareness campaign will focus on the impact of domestic violence on victims, families, communities, businesses and the economy.

An eight-minute video, funded by Wells Fargo and created by Charlotte communications firm Wray Ward, tells the stories of survivors of domestic violence, while a website at enoughviolence.com, created on a pro-bono basis by VisionPoint Marketing in Raleigh, features information on domestic violence and resources for dealing with it.

“We want to raise the community consciousness, and connect with victims earlier so they don’t wait and wait and wait,” says Ward, who also co-chairs the fundraising effort.

The overall campaign, designed by communications firm Wray Ward on a pro-bono basis, will feature television, radio, outdoor, print and social media, as well as community outreach and education.

It also will include training materials developed for human-resources professionals to help them identify signs that an employee may be in trouble, and to raise awareness in their organizations about the issue.

“We want to really make a difference,” Ward says.

Pat’s Place aims to grow

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In 2011, Pat’s Place Child Advocacy Center interviewed 420 children referred to it on the suspicion they may have been victims of sexual abuse.

Of those cases, 53 were accepted for prosecution, 36 abusers pled guilty, five abusers were convicted in jury trials, and no abusers were acquitted.

Now, after moving into larger quarters in Dilworth last October, the agency aims to be serving 600 children a year within the next 18 months to two years.

“We’ll be able to see twice as many kids as we did in the old facility,” says Penelope Wilson, director of development and communications for Pat’s Place.

Formed in 2004, the agency operates with an annual budget of $650,000 and a staff of eight people.

Its mission, Wilson says, is to “drive the resolutions of child sexual-abuse cases in Mecklenburg County, provide a safe environment that puts the well-being of the children first, and break the cycle of sexual abuse.”

Pat’s Place conducts medical examinations of children, for example, through a partnership with the Pediatric Resource Center at Levine Children’s Hospital.

Pat’s Place also employs three family advocates who provide resources for families, including mental-health therapy and an alternative place to stay if the perpetrator of abuse still lives in the home.

And it conducts forensic interviews that are designed to provide a safe place for children.

Interviewing the children, all of them referred to the agency either by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department or the Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services, are licensed clinical social workers.

And observing the interviews, which are videotaped are representatives from the referring agencies, and from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office, Pediatric Resource Center at Levine Children’s Hospital, and local mental-health providers.

And during the interview, the forensic interviewer takes a break to ask the observers from the other agencies if there is any additional information they need to help serve the child or put together a case for prosecuting the alleged abuser.

The process is designed to resolve child sexual-abuse cases and to keep the children from having to undergo an interview at each agency, the former process, a practice that typically caused them to have to relive the trauma each time they were interviewed.

Pat’s Place also employs a community-outreach family advocate who visits schools, faith-based groups and civic organizations to raise awareness of child sexual abuse and help adults identify signs that a child may have been abused.

To finance its plan to grow, Pat’s Place aims to ramp up its fundraising operation by focusing on raising “leadership” gifts of $1,000 or more and launching an effort to developed “planned gifts” through wills and estate plans.

Serving 600 children a year likely would increase the agency’s annual budget to $1.3 million to $1.4 million, Wilson says.

Pat’s Place also wants to add a mental-health therapist to its staff within a year, she says, a new position that has become increasingly important as children the agency started serving seven years ago now are reaching their mid-teens.

“They’re coming of age where they’re starting to date,” Wilson says. “And when that happens, memories come back and things need to be resolved in a different way, and we want to address that on site instead of referring them to another agency.”

Nonprofit lobbying fell with economy

Lobbying by nonprofits fell slightly with the economic downturn that began in September 2008, a new study says.

Total spending by 80 big nonprofits that reported lobbying activity in Washington this year in the fields of human services, arts and culture, health and the environmental, total spending fell 3.3 percent from 2007 to 2011, says the study by First Street.

Annual spending during period peaked in 2008, with many groups spending most of their lobbying budget before the economy collapsed.

Spending on lobbying grew at 35 of the groups, or 45 percent, and fell at 38 groups, or 48 percent.

The study excluded “lobby powerhouse” AARP because “its spending is so high that its year-to-year shifts can obscure underlying patterns,” First Street says, as well as nonprofits that were political advocates, religious organizations, trade groups, professional associations, colleges and health systems.

Fundraising, advocacy grow online

Nonprofits posted big gains online in 2011 in revenue from fundraising and in advocacy response rates, although fundraising response rates were nearly flat, a new study says.

Overall online fundraising revenue grew 19 percent from 2010, with the number of gifts growing 20 percent, while the typical gift size fell 2 percent, says the 2012 eNonprofit Benchmarks Study from M&R Strategic Services and NTEN.

The study, based on analysis of aggregate data from 44 nonprofits, also found advocacy response rates grew to 2.8 percent, up 28 percent from 2010.

And nonprofit email-driven donations forms had a median completion rate of 17 percent.

“Email has developed for nonprofits as a marketing tool,” the study says. “More groups are using best practices online to optimize their programs for better open rates, response rates and revenue.”

While one-time gifts remained the largest source of online revenue for participants, 92 percent, the study says, monthly giving grew at a faster rate, 35 percent compared to 23 percent for one-time gifts, but accounted for only 8 percent of total online revenue, up from 5 percent in 2010.

Direct email appeals accounted for 35 percent of online revenue, on average, with the remaining 65 percent from other sources such as unsolicited web giving and peer referrals.

The overall pace of “churn” in email lists totaled 19 percent, including 9 percent lost as a result of supporters who unsubscribed and 10 percent lost as a result of email addresses that became undeliverable.

The average nonprofit Facebook fan page had 31,473 users, or people who “Like” a fan page, and the average nonprofit increased its Facebook fan base by 70 percent.

For every 1,000 members of an email list, the average nonprofit had 103 Facebook fans, 29 Twitter followers, and 12 mobile subscribers.