Friday, January 30, 2009

Saving the Children

Standing next to Mayor Riley as he announced the launch of an already successful fund drive to keep the doors of the Charles Webb Center open, I had one of those moments of cosmic introspection. The Webb Center serves special needs children. A little girl in a hooded jacket looked up at me and smiled. Without question her parents depend on the Webb Center to provide an education and daycare for her, care that she simply could not receive elsewhere. If the Webb Center were to close her family would not be able to hold down two jobs, care effectively for the rest of their family, or provide her with a stimulating educational environment.

As the reporters shouted out questions for the Mayor I wondered about how the cameras were recording the children in wheelchairs; the kids who brought tears to the Mayor's eyes. I wondered how the TV audience would see the dozens of grateful parents. I wondered about the children at home who would see the news report and ask their parents why the special school was forced to close.

Would an exhausted parent, home from a long day at the work say to his child, "Well, the Webb Center must not have enough people who care." Or would he say "Its a dog-eat-dog world out there. Not all nonprofits can survive" Or would he sit up, get out his checkbook, and use the moment to make a point to his child who could have been, had the cards been dealt differently, a student at the Webb Center.

It made me wonder which children were being saved at that moment.

3 Ways to Volunteer

Participation in the community, volunteerism, can be done in three capacities all equally commendable and rewarding: direct service, indirect service, and advocacy.

Recognizing a volunteer's strengths and area of expertise is the key to a successful experience both for the volunteer and the mentoring organization or cause.

Not all of us can dish out meals at the local soup kitchen and that's OK. Helping to organize the food drive to provide supplies to the soup kitchen is just as helpful. Or working to reform policy that impacts the services or conditions homeless people experience as barriers to help change the root of the problem is also doing your part. Align the volunteer's skills with the task at hand and do the same for yourself.

Coastal Community Foundation has extended the deadline for 2009 Malcolm D. Haven Award for Selfless Community Giving nominations from Friday, January 23rd to Friday, February 6th. Named for one of the founding members of the Foundation, the Haven award is a prestigious distinction and presented bi-annually to an individual for “Selfless Community Giving” in Charleston, Berkeley, or Dorchester counties. The recipient receives $1,000 to give to a charitable organization of choice and will be recognized at a Foundation-hosted ceremony in April.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Tips on giving your money away

Last week the Beaufort Fund Committee distributed a quarter of a million dollars to Hampton, Jasper, Colleton, and Beaufort Counties. After watching a roomful of people work for three hours considering the pros and cons of various grantmaking options I learned....

1) Start a grantmaking committee, you will be amazed how much wiser they are collectively than you are alone. It does not have to be a large formal group. Get your entire family or a group of friends together, or join a giving circle like Women Making a Difference, a civic group or service organization like Rotary, The Exchange Club, or Kiwanis, or skip the formalities and just start a fund where you work as have Blackbaud, PigglyWiggly, and many other businesses large and small.

2) Visit each group you consider funding, not to figure out what is wrong with them but rather to understand what is right. In the end it is what is good that moves you. What is wrong can be, and will be, corrected. Take a friend on these site visits. They will see things that you might otherwise miss. Ask for the staff and volunteers for help in explaining to others why they should support the organization.

3) Give enough to make a difference, but give as broadly as possible. Look for organizations that have many donors even if they are just a start-up. Look for benefits beyond the obvious (such as service to the community) and consider how your giving will influence others to give.

What would you add to the list?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Are there too many nonprofits?

Most times when someone says that there are too many nonprofits they end up talking about how little money there is for all of them to survive. Sometimes I think we ask the wrong questions as we head down that line of reasoning.

I had a short conversation with Bennett Helms where he described how he has found a source for the old style school desks, you know, the ones where you lift a lid and put your books inside and the lid is actually the writing surface for the desk. He said that Charleston School District is replacing those old style desks with group work tables. He found the desks cost $500 new but he can get them from county surplus for $5 each.

He takes them to the Police Department. They use detainees to clean up the desks and make them look new. The people being held by the police are eager to have the distraction. They know that they are making a difference in the life of some kid.

He has got a friend who engraves signs. He asked if his friend would mind engraving some signs for free...for the kids. He puts the name of the child on the desk and the desk becomes, perhaps, the only piece of furniture the child can call his own. The police put their logo on the desk too.

Bennett also has a couple of friends with pick-up trucks. They deliver the desks to the children at their homes.

Mr. Helms is a member of Rotary and he asked them for a few hundred dollars to buy the desks. The purchase of surplus goods sets in motion the whole chain of events leading to a school desk being placed in some kid's home. Rotary is happy because they are helping kids too.

Is there a business plan? No. Is there a Board of Trustees, Annual Meetings, marketing materials, etc.? Nope.

Are they efficient? Only if you look at yield per dollar. The whole process is fragile and dependent on the goodwill of everyone involved. From an efficiency point of view you have to know that sometimes it takes a while to get the desks distributed.

The point is not the money, or the speed of delivery, rather its value comes from the chain of concern for the community...and of course the direct benefit to the kids.

So how many chains of connection between donors and the community are too many?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Web 2.0? Fear of the Unknown

Sifting through Web 2.0, viral marketing, and social media outlets can be daunting. There are so many to choose from. But working to get a message out to constituents on a shoe-string budget can be equally daunting. Bringing the Foundation communications up to speed (though snail speed in comparison) to the ever changing landscape of the Internet (do we still use World Wide Web?) has taken a team approach and countless brainstorming hours from staff and volunteers all to come to the obvious realization of: "Just do it!" It's cheap (free), easy (if you're computer literate) and the hottest trend at one's fingertips. So- here we are. Please join us.

Is there still a place for optimism in this economy?

Communities around the country are trying to find their way through the holidays. Despite the concerns here and elsewhere, I am optimistic. Is “optimism” overly optimistic if it is based on a cool-headed assessment of the facts?

South Carolina ranks among the top ten in the nation in per capita giving. A dinner event on Daniel Island last month yielded $200,000 for Welvista, a nonprofit that provides health services to the underinsured.

Grace Episcopal Church just completed a nearly $3,000,000 capital campaign. The funding came largely from the congregation. Deep convictions and faith (and crumbling masonry) move us in South Carolina.

Florence Crittenton faced bankruptcy due to government cutbacks until it became known that their service to young mothers and mothers-to-be would soon end. Partner organizations have extended a helping hand and an offer to assist them as they rebuild.

What I am seeing is that those organizations that build deep and lasting relationships, even if those relationships are new but promise to be lasting, can survive and will survive.

I do not believe that my optimism is misplaced or mistaken. We give back in South Carolina, especially when the need is real.