Arts groups aim to increase access

By Todd Cohen

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

DURHAM, N.C. — Art of Cool Project, a Durham nonprofit formed in 2011 to provide jazz and build an audience for it, wants a physical home and a way to expand its audience, build its donor base and find corporate sponsors.

American Dance Festival, which also is in Durham and is celebrating its 82nd season this summer, wants to establish a year-long presence and know more about its audience.

Artsplosure, a Raleigh nonprofit that for nearly four decades has produced big arts festivals each year and worked to promote the arts, also wants to know more about its audience, and to host first-time events and performances.

And 14-year-old Deep Dish Theater Company, which stages four shows a year in a storefront at University Mall in Chapel Hill that seats 70 people, wants new space that can handle constantly-changing programs and will attract a steady flow of visitors.

Key to making the arts and culture more accessible in the Triangle, representatives of all four groups told the Triangle Donors Forum on April 14, are capacity-building and technical support for small and mid-sized arts organizations, as well as collaboration among them.

Economic driver

The arts are big business and big contributors to the economy and the health of local communities, Lori O’Keefe, president of Triangle Community Foundation and moderator of the panel, told several dozen guests at the Donors Forum, which was hosted Foundation and held at the Carolina Theater in Durham.

Sixty percent of employees in North Carolina work in the arts or creative industries, which generated $22 billion in revenue for the state in 2014, O’Keefe said.

“This is real work for our region and for our state, with real people working real jobs in the arts, and the majority of those jobs are in the nonprofit sector,” she said.

Arts offerings contribute to the health of downtowns and communities, and can have a big impact on the way children learn, O’Keefe said.

“Immersion in art has such a ripple effect on how a child can be set up for success later in life,” she said.

Arts and culture represent an important focus of grantmaking at the foundation, which last year granted nearly $2 million to organizations that support arts and culture in the region and beyond, O’Keefe said.

Providing leadership in building the cultural identity of the Triangle also is a focus — along with building the capacity of groups that address youth literacy and community development, and supporting environmental conservation programs — of a “People and Places” program the Foundation launched last year.

Yet while larger arts institutions in the region may seem to find it easier to sustain themselves, O’Keefe said, smaller arts organizations faces challenges, including a lack of “ready-made venues,” lack of knowledge about how to use technology to attract audiences, and a business model that will sustain them.

Providing access

Adequate and appropriate space to perform and show art, and the accessibility of that space to a regional audience, are big challenges for smaller arts groups, members of the panel told the Donors Forum.

The Triangle, for example, lacks a “home” for jazz, a single space to house jazz performance, teaching, rehearsing and related activities, said Cicely Mitchell, president and co-founder of Art of Cool Project.

The idea that led to the founding of Art of Cool was to “provide space where we could help expand the audience for jazz,” she said. “It’s all about accessibility.”

Paul Frellick, artistic director of Deep Dish Theater Company, said that while ticket sales generate only about half of the funds it needs to operate, its capacity of only 70 seats makes it tough to attract corporate advertisers for its printed programs or corporate sponsors.

After operating in two locations at University Mall, he said, the troupe aims to find new space and move over the course of its next season.

Maintaining momentum

Arts groups like Artsplosure, Art of Cool and American Dance Festival that concentrate many of their activities into a few events or times during the year face the challenge of maintaining a presence or momentum throughout the year, panelists said.

Multiplying that challenge for an arts group can be a lack of data about its audience, a hurdle that many arts groups face.

Michael Lowder, executive director of Artsplosure, said venues in themselves can carry a brand that can “trump whoever the presenter is.”

The Artsplosure festival this year was moving to Fayetteville Street from Moore Square, he said.

Yet because Fayetteville Street has attracted both “great events and not-so-great events” and has only a “so-so brand,” he said, the move carried some risk.

“Nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd,” he said.

To help promote and market itself throughout the year, he said, Artsplosure has made aggressive use of social media such as Instagram and Facebook.

“We really try to maintain a relationship with our audience,” he said. Yet at Artsplosure, he said, “we really don’t know our audience.”

While 30,000 to 50,000 people attend the organization’s First Night activities, and 60,000 to 80,000 attend Artsplosure, less than one thousand attending those festivals actually fill out surveys about who they are, he said.

Artsplosure tries to communicate with the arts community through arts agencies, and through roughly 25 media outlets.

Still, Lowder said, maintaining a year-long presence and momentum “with who you perceive your audience to be” can be challenging.

Sarah Kondu, director of communications and marketing at American Dance Festival, said it performs at venues such as Durham Arts Center yet, because of a policy by intermediaries that sell tickets online, it can not get information on the people who buy tickets to its performances.

So knowing and communicating with its audiences is a “real struggle for us,” she said.

Mitchell, who suggested that venues do not share information on ticket buyers to protect their privacy, said that while Art of Cool has built an email list of people who attend its events, its marketing budget is small and so it relies on social media to reach its audience.

Showing value

O’Keefe, who worked as a fundraiser and arts administrator at performing arts institutions in California and New York City before joining Triangle Community Foundation in 2005, asked the panelists whether the new residents who have swelled the Triangle’s population recognize the value the arts add to the region’s quality of life and are “opening their pockets and engaging in ways other than just buying tickets.”

Mitchell said Art of Cool launched its festival last year entirely through a Kickstarter social-media campaign.

Tondu said modern dance is a “hard sell, even in larger cities,” and that American Dance Festival is “still trying to educate, to get people to give it a try.”

Frellick said that because tickets sales generate only about half the income Deep Dish Theater needs to operate, and because its limited seating capacity has made it tough to attract corporate sponsors, the company depends on individual donors and patrons to sustain it.

On the other hand, he said, when corporate giving fell after the economy crashed in 2008, Deep Dish was not as hard hit as some other organizations because it already lacked corporate support.

Lowder said Artsplosure six years ago saw a 60 percent spike in ticket sales for First Night, and asked a statistician to try to find out why.

The only correlation the statistician could find after looking at a broad range of indicators was that “the more we spend on art, the more tickets we sold,” Lowder said.

“We want to be perceived as an entry point, the gateway, to what others are doing,” he said. “It’s about the art we’re presenting, and presenting in an accessible way to encourage people to learn more and get involved.”

Making the arts accessible is important, he said, because of the “influx of people from all over the country with expectations about what sorts of art they’re going to find here.”

Capacity and collaboration

A big challenge for smaller and mid-sized arts groups is building their organizational “capacity,” panelists said.

Mitchell at Art of Cool said finding corporate support has been tough.

The group participated in a training program at the Durham Chamber of Commerce to learn how to ask companies for money, and was the only nonprofit in the program, she said.

“A lot of younger organizations would jump over the opportunity to have mentorship and camaraderie,” she said.

O’Keefe said a “big push” in the nonprofit sector is for greater collaboration, and “the arts tend to be on the forefront of this, using statistics, data, having a revenue producing model.”

Through tickets and products, “the arts have always had,” she said. “The arts, particularly in the Triangle, are constantly thinking about ways to work together to raise each other up.”

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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.”

Competition spurs collaborative ideas to fix local problems

By Todd Cohen

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

RALEIGH, N.C. –At stake was a $25,000 grant from Triangle Community Foundation.

Competing for the funds were five groups of partners, selected from more than 50 partnerships that had submitted proposals in response to a request for ideas for innovative, collaborative solutions to community problems.

Each group had 10 minutes to pitch its proposal to a panel of five judges, and another five minutes to answer questions from the panel.

The groups said they would use the grant dollars to develop:

* A storefront in downtown Siler City to serve as “Idea Centro” and engage residents, particularly Hispanics, develop them as leaders, and produce new thinking and economic growth.

* A pre-K class for four-year-olds at a year-round center for children and youth in an impoverished Raleigh neighborhood, combined with services for their parents, to help families break the cycle of poverty.

* A center to process and distribute food at a new food hub in Durham that aims to provide a market for local farmers and a source of food for agencies that serve people in need.

* A 200-square-foot home to serve as a model dwelling for people with mental-health challenges living at a Chatham County farm that aims to help them become self-sufficient.

* A food trailer to employ men and women in Durham who get out of prison, and help them develop the skills they need to survive in the workplace.

The competition marked the fourth year Triangle Community Foundation had hosted its Innovation Award, an effort to stimulate new ideas and collaborations to address community problems.

The award aims “to seed an innovative idea and gives nonprofits involved an opportunity to think outside the box, to move the needle on a community issue,” Lori O’Keefe, the Foundation’s president, told several dozen guests who attended the event.

The five finalists, she said, all were winners that “think innovatively and collaboratively.”

Claiming victory at the close of the event was the Bull City Cool Food Hub Collaboration. And thanks to donors to the Foundation, each of the other semifinalists received $7,000.

The competition

The Innovation Award event was held March 20 at HQ Raleigh, a shared workspace in the warehouse district of downtown Raleigh designed to boost entrepreneurialism.

With competitors waiting and watching from adjacent space, each finalist group had five minutes to set up any visual presentation it had prepared.

Then, standing in front of the five judges and the audience of guests, each group made its pitch.

To prepare for the competition, the finalists had participated in a “pitch workshop” in February led by BC/DC Ideas, a Raleigh consulting firm that works with nonprofits.

Judges at the final event included its chair, Easter Maynard, director of community investment for Investors Management Corporation and a member of the Foundation’s board of directors; Scott Crawford, chef and co-owner of Standard Foods; David Dodson, president of MDC, a Durham think-tank; Aaron Houghton, co-founder and CEO of BoostSuite, a website firm in Durham; Donovan Moxey, CEO of Interactive Multimedia Solutions and IBS International; and Steven Pearson, manager of corporate citizens and corporate affairs at IBM.

Boosting growth in Siler City

The Latino community in Siler City has grown to nearly half the rural county’s population of 8,100 residents from less than one percent in 1980.

Yet despite the loss of 1,700 jobs between 2007 and 2012 with the closing of furniture, textile and food-processing plants, Hispanics have stayed in Siler City.

Now, a collaboration known as Siler City Unidos is working to transform a storefront in downtown Siler City into “pop-up community center” known as “Idea Centro” that will engage partner agencies, foster civic participation and leadership among all residents, particularly, Hispanic, and generate ideas for developing the downtown area.

The collaboration includes Chatham Economic Development Corporation, Siler City Development Organization, Communities in Schools of Chatham County, the town of Siler City, and other groups.

The group told the judges at the competition that the challenges facing Siler City “have led to a willingness to try things that haven’t been tried before.”

Breaking poverty cycle in Raleigh

In Raleigh, where the number of residents living in poverty nearly doubled from 2000 to 2012, the poverty rate is 16 percent. In the 27610 zip-code area in southeast Raleigh, the poverty rate is 22.7 percent, nearly one in three households with children under age 18 lives in poverty, and the number of children living in poverty has grown 46 percent since 2008.

To find a way to help break the local cycle of poverty between generations, the executive directors of seven nonprofits have been meeting for the past year.

Known as the Wake Collaborative, the partners include Community Partnerships, Council for Entrepreneurial Development, The Daniel Center for Math and Science, SouthLight Healthcare, StepUp Ministries, Triangle Family Services, and Wake County SmartStart.

Their solution is to create a class for 18 four-year-olds at The Daniel Center, an after-school and summer program for children and teens, and to provide support services for their parents.

The pilot program, which would include an outdoor area for play and fitness, would remove a big barrier for parents to find jobs, while also creating jobs at the Center, the group told the panel of judges.

The pilot class would be expanded over time to eventually provide support for a broad “pipeline” of constituents, from pregnant mothers to children and teens, along with families.

The goal is provide support for the same children and their families as the children move into young adulthood.

Linking local farmers, hungry people

One in four children in North Carolina is at risk of hunger, yet small and mid-sized farmers in the state lack access to local markets.

In North Carolina, which lacks big food-processing facilities, bigger farms typically ship their produce to industrial food processors outside the state, but smaller farms in the state often must sell unprocessed produce directly to consumers.

The missing piece for small farms is to add a food-processing center to a food hub that houses businesses that buy food from small farmers and sell it to agencies that serve people in need.

Known as the Bull City Cool Food Hub Collaboration, partners include Farmer Foodshare, Reinvestment Partners, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, and Durham County County Soil and Conservation.

The food hub, which buys produce from small and mid-sized farms, will process and store food, and distribute it to agencies that serve hungry people.

The Collaboration already has secured $50,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and was seeking $25,000 from Triangle Community Foundation so it could develop the processing center at the hub.

The processing center would have a “multiplier” effect on the Foundation’s investment by generating more income for farmers, more food for people in need, and an economic boost for the area of downtown Durham that is home to the hub, the group told the judges.

Housing people with mental illness

In the U.S., 2.2 million people with mental illness get no treatment. And in North Carolina, 40 percent of homeless people have chronic mental illness.

Providing treatment and a place to live for people facing mental-health challenges is the focus of a partnership that includes The Farm at Penny Lane, a farm in Chatham County that grows and produces food for people living with mental illness; Habitat for Humanity of Chatham County; XDS, a nonprofit that works with people with mental illness and owns the property the farm operates on; and the Center for Excellence in Community Health in the Department of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Known as the Tiny Home Pilot, the partnership wants to build a 200-square-foot home on the farm that would serve as a kind of model home for mentally-ill individuals.

Based on stays of a week or two to get feedback from temporary occupants, the partnership then would work with Habitat Chatham to build an initial cluster of three tiny homes for individuals in Chatham County, including some who also could receive support from the Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health at UNC.

The occupants would apply for no-interest loans from Habitat and would own the homes.

The effort, which could grow to include additional clusters of three tiny homes each and eventually become a small community on the farm, aims to help people with mental illness avoid homelessness, become more self-sufficient, and improve the quality of their lives, the group told the judges.

Jobs for ex-prisoners

Eighty percent of men and women who return home to Durham from prison have no education credentials and no real work experience, and 60 percent still are unemployed after a year.

A partnership of three Durham groups aims to create a food trailer to provide people getting out of prison with jobs and support services to equip them to make the transition to civilian life.

Known as Second Helpings, the partnership includes the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham, Core Catering Company, and Durham County Criminal Justice Resource Center, a county agency.

The idea, modeled on nonprofit Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, will employ ex-prisoners and provide them with case management and “wraparound” support services.

The skills that inmates must master in prison are not the skills they need to master to survive in the workplace after they leave prison, the group told the judges.

At Second Helpings, they said, a criminal conviction will not be a barrier to employment but a requirement.

When fully operating, the food trailer aims to employ eight people each working 20 hours a week.

Innovation matters

Key to the winning proposal was the “crucial nature of the collaboration between the organizations, and the innovative way they were going to have a multiple impact,” says Maynard, who chaired the panel of judges.

“They would not be able to achieve their goal if they were not working in collaboration,” she says. “We were looking for authentic collaboration.”

The winning proposal will provide a market for farmers, and food for agencies that serve hungry people while giving an economic boost to the neighborhood, she says.

Overall, the Innovation Award competition “was a real awakening to the Foundation about the quality of thought leadership in the nonprofit sector, and clear evidence of the innovative activity that’s happening out there all the time,” Maynard says.

“It also gives us an opportunity, through just one award, to celebrate several organizations and help build skills and not just write a check,” she says.

In addition to a grant to the winning proposal, all finalists received training in pitching their proposals, and then got an opportunity to make their pitches before judges and an audience, and to connect with one another, she says.

“The public nature of it,” she says, “fostered a lot more conversation and dialogue and interest.”

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.”

‘Coopertition’

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.

Building community by investing in nonprofit capacity

By Todd Cohen

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

RALEIGH, N.C. — Marbles Kids Museum created a program to train its staff to help develop early literacy skills in visitors to the museum.

Triangle Family Services developed metrics on the use of its space that helped dramatically reduce the “no-show” rate among its clients.

Both Raleigh nonprofits were among 22 in the Triangle that received grants from Triangle Community Foundation to assess their operations, and among 21 that received additional grants to use those assessments to strengthen their organizational “capacity.”

The Foundation’s total investment in the effort, which included learning “cohorts” designed to provide training for participating nonprofits and help them share best practices with one another, was $330,000.

“Running a nonprofit is a business, and one with an extremely important outcome,” Pat Nathan, a member of the Foundation’s board, told 85 guests attending TCF Connect, an event in October at the North Carolina Museum of Art attended by 85 Foundation donors and nonprofits.

A similar event for donors and nonprofits was held in Durham and attracted 40 people.

Building capacity

Building the capacity of nonprofits in the region that work in the fields of youth literacy and community development is the focus of the first phase of a “People and Places” initiative Triangle Community Foundation launched in 2014 that also will invest in nonprofits working in the fields of land conservation and the arts.

The Foundation decided to make capacity-building in those four fields of interest its focus as the result of a two-year effort to assess its grantmaking with advice from donors, nonprofits and civic leaders from throughout the Triangle.

Lori O’Keefe, the Foundation’s president, told donors and nonprofits attending TCF Connect that its dollars for making discretionary grants are limited and its donors want to see the “direct tangible impact” of grants from their funds.

“As much as we want to give from our hearts, we have to invest in organizations’ ability to grow and expand and be successful,” O’Keefe said. “We have to be accountable for what the return on investment is.”

In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2014, discretionary funds available for grants to community programs totaled $1 million, or the investment income on 15 percent of the Foundation’s $189 million total assets.

“It’s important for us as donors to recognize that for organizations to feed more kids or buy more books,” O’Keefe said, “they have to be able to invest in their infrastructure, much like a business.”

Literacy, community development

Nathan, founder and president of Dress for Success Triangle NC and a former sustainability executive at Dell, moderated a panel that focused on the issue of organizational capacity and included Sally Edwards, president of Marbles; Alice Lutz, CEO of Triangle Family Services; and O’Keefe.

Since Marbles was formed seven years ago through the merger of Exploris and Playspace, hundreds of thousands of children have visited the museum, Edwards said.

“We knew we had such an opportunity to make such an impact in early literacy but didn’t have the capacity to make it,” she said.

So with a grant from Triangle Community Foundation, Marbles assessed its capacity in the area of youth literacy, looking at factors such as its staff and exhibits to determine how it might best improve its organization to better focus on early literacy.

A second grant from the Foundation allowed Marbles to develop and launch a program in collaboration with Motheread, a Raleigh-based national training and curriculum development organization, to train its staff to help develop the early literacy skills of visitors to the museum.

Triangle Family Services, which works to help families experiencing family violence, financial crisis and mental health issues, was looking for ways to streamline its operations.

With five business units spread across multiple locations and operating seven days a week, the agency was using a complicated process for assigning its rooms for clients to meet with its staff.

Triangle Family Services used an initial grant from Triangle Community Foundation to  identify the need to improve that process, and used a second grant to develop and adopt a “systemizing of metrics and measures across all program areas to make it simple and accessible” to assign space for clients, Lutz said.

The result: A reduction — to 5 percent from 18 percent — in the no-show rate among mental-health clients.

Gearing for change

The “People and Places” initiative is part of a larger effort at Triangle Community Foundation to find ways to be a more effective partner to donors, funder of nonprofits and resource on local community issues, Lacy Presnell, chair of the Foundation’s board, told guests at the TCF Connect event.

“When we work together,” he said, “we are stronger and can increase the positive impact we have on our communities.”

In the fiscal year ended June 30, 2014, he said, the foundation received over 220 gifts totaling over $25.2 million, and made over 3,700 grants totaling over $15.4 million invested back into the community.

In assessing its grants, he said, the Foundation found the biggest fields of interest that received funding were education, arts and culture, followed by housing and human services, religious activities, and health care, he said.

Today, with $189.4 million in assets and celebrating its 30th anniversary and the 100th anniversary of community foundations in the U.S., Triangle Community Foundation is “trying to stay in step with rapid growth in the region,” said Presnell, who serves as general counsel for the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Retooling for impact

O’Keefe said the focus of the Foundation’s grantmaking is local, with three-fourths of all its grantmaking remaining in the Triangle, and donor advised funds accounting for nearly two-thirds of the grant dollars that stay in the region.

The Foundation has been retooling, looking for “how to best deploy the flexible funds that have been given to us by past and current donors, and how to put them back into the community for the best use,” she said.

In talking to donors, the Foundation learned that while they were “excited about the programs, they were not always sure how it connected back to their funds and grantmaking.”

And finding that donors already were funding programs in the areas of youth literacy, community development, the arts and the environment, she said, the Foundation decided to focus on capacity-building in those four areas.

Partnering for success

Jessica Aylor, director of community investment at Triangle Community Foundation, told guests at the TCF Connect event that partnerships with nonprofits is one of central roles the Foundation is playing.

“We are taking more of a partnership approach with our programs, trying to strengthen the capacity of nonprofits, giving them grants and putting them in learning cohorts” where they can learn from one another, she said. “Stronger nonprofits end up with greater impact in the community.”

Funding for the Foundation’s “People and Places” community programs that focus on youth literacy, community development, land conservation and the arts is available from Fund for the Triangle, created through gifts to the Foundation by donors “who wanted us to be more strategic in our funding,” she said.

Getting involved

In addition to donating money, said panelists at TCF Connect, donors to Triangle Community Foundation and to nonprofits have many other opportunities to get involved with nonprofits they care about.

Donors can contribute time as volunteers, either working directly with a nonprofit’s clients or in the back office, or can serve on boards, committees and task forces, they said.

At Marbles, for example, a donor could volunteer to help deliver programs or with committees such as one working on a master-planning process to expand the museum’s campus, Edwards said.

And at Triangle Family Services, donors can serve on boards, task forces or a facilities committee that currently is looking at how to get a sump pump for the organization, or can attend a coffee chat with the CEO on the first Friday of each month from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.

Donors, nonprofits and local residents also can attend the Foundation’s What Matters event on April 1, 2015, that will feature stories about giving and data on the Triangle, and will focus on “how the region is changing and how to be thinking for years ahead,” Aylor said.

This past April, the What Matters event attracted 500 people and focused on community innovation.

“Community foundations,” she said, “are places for people to learn together and support causes they care about.”

O’Keefe agreed.

“The community foundation field is about connecting resources to opportunities and needs,” she said. “The more we learn together, the more work we can do.”

Donor advised fund focuses on Chatham County

By Todd Cohen

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

FEARRINGTON VILLAGE, N.C. — Chatham Outreach Alliance, a food bank in Pittsboro, provides a summer feeding program for kids.

Family Violence and Rape Crisis Services, also in Pittsboro, provides services to battered women and sexual assault victims.

And Boys and Girls Clubs of Eastern Piedmont, in Siler City, provides a safe place for young people to learn and grow.

All three nonprofits are among dozens in Chatham County that have received a total of over $1 million since 2008 from the Arthur Carlsen Charitable Fund, a donor advised fund the late Arthur Carlsen established at Triangle Community Foundation to benefit nonprofits based or operating in Chatham County.

“There is a trickle effect of one man’s decision to give, and it’s visible here in Chatham County,” says Carl Thompson, a member of the Foundation’s board of directors and director of continuing education for the Chatham County campus of Central Carolinas Community College “Because of his deep care and concern for his fellow residents, he has made a difference in Chatham  County that continues to grow.”

Thompson spoke September 10 at a reception the Foundation hosted at The Garden Terrace at Fearrington Village to celebrate the milestone the Carlsen Fund has passed in awarding over $1 million grants.

Carlsen, who died in September 2006, one month shy of his 91st birthday, was a retailer who was born in New York City and settled in North Carolina with his wife, Alice Lee Yeats, who predeceased him. He spent his final years in Fearrington Village, had no blood relatives, and left the majority of his accumulated wealth to the Foundation.

He set up the fund to benefit Fearrington Cares, which provides support, services and programs for residents of Fearrington Village, and to support other community organizations.

Grants from the Carlsen Fund have supported direct human services, the arts, food security, and education, among other causes.

Lori O’Keefe, president of Triangle Community Foundation, says the Carlsen Fund reflects the Foundation’s commitment to serving diverse needs in the region.

“While the Foundation has a regional focus on the Triangle, we understand that each community has very diverse qualities that make it unique,” she told 50 guests attending the reception. “It is vital to us that we continue to learn about these specific needs alongside each of you, as our region grows and changes.”

Veronica Hemmingway, senior donor engagement officer at the Foundation, says the Carlsen Fund is one of the largest sources of philanthropy for Chatham County and accounts for roughly half the Foundation’s annual giving to support causes in the county.

The fund also represents one of the few sources of general operating support for nonprofits in the county, she says.

Thompson, who was born and raised in Chatham County and served for 16 years on the Chatham County Board of Commissioners, says that, on paper, the county would seem to be “very prosperous.”

It trails only four of North Carolina’s other 99 counties in per-capita income, for example, while its education level per-capita also ranks among the highest in the state and its unemployment rate among the lowest.

But the the western part of the county is a different story, he says, with much lower income and education per-capita, and slightly higher unemployment.

With growing global competition, he says, parts of the county like Siler City “lost a lot of industry and manufacturing plants,” and are home to “a lot of vacant buildings and lost jobs.”

Nonprofits in the county provide people in need with critical services such as education, including literacy, and basic services such as food, Thompson says.

And while the Carlsen Fund represents one of the county’s largest sources of philanthropy, more support is needed, he says.

“We know we can’t do it alone,” he said at the reception. “The legacy of Arthur Carlsen is strong and impactful, but we need continued support in this community to make his dreams a reality — and enhance the lives of all who live here.”