Listening to Cleveland’s nonprofit community

Many of you participated in our recent rounds of community conversations.  In fact, we met with over 250 individuals representing organizations from across sectors: arts, human services, economic development, environment, neighborhoods and more. 

One of our goals was to give nonprofits the opportunity to share what they have been doing differently as a result of this recession, what they thought the community’s most pressing needs were, and to share with the foundation their feedback about its grantmaking and policies. 

Here is a summary of what we heard:

What are foundation grantees/organizations doing differently in response to economic crisis?

Almost every nonprofit is changing how it is doing business in the current climate.  Responses addressed:

  • Staffing and organizational changes (not filling positions, reducing hours or days of operation, targeted lay-offs and utilizing volunteers )
  • Board-related (engaging board more in fundraising, finding new members to address skill gaps, and working with Business Volunteers Unlimited (BVU) more),
  • Trying out new strategies (using social media, utilizing website differently, trying out new collaborations, and working to get stimulus dollars.)

What are the most pressing community issues?

The responses to this question fell in the following four areas:

  • Increased demand or need for many services, 
  •  Joblessness and attendant social ills, 
  •  Homelessness  due to impact of foreclosures,
  • Loss of Federal, State, County and United Way funding

Recent information from 211-First call for Help suggests that the top issues that residents are calling about in the community are:  food, utilities assistance, job finding assistance, rental assistance, temporary financial aid, homelessness and mortgage foreclosure counseling, particularly in the suburbs. 

All of these issues surfaced as well in our conversations along with a concern about a balance between supporting large versus smaller agencies in providing services and how to plan post-stimulus funding.
What could the Cleveland Foundation do differently or what does the foundation need to do more of?

There were several main themes that the community wanted to share with the board:

  • The first message was that it is critical that the Cleveland Foundation maintain a balance between addressing the immediate (basic) or crisis needs of the community in addition to longer-term projects.  Agencies also appreciated the foundation’s commitment to leading initiatives that were driving change in the community.  Community members stressed broadening the definition of basic needs to include more services and increasing the number of populations being served.  
  •  Secondly, community groups wanted assistance to bring organizations together to find ways to work more effectively and efficiently.  They also wanted to hear more about best practices and successful models.
  • Third, organizations wanted the foundation to be flexible in funding decisions to allow for the maximum benefit from grants made.  The agencies also wanted the foundation to consider ways to reduce administrative burden on grantees and help with budget planning by considering multi-year requests.
  • Finally, a few agencies wanted TCF to reconsider the deferral on the major capital grants program, particularly for those groups who are nearing their goal and expect foundation dollars to leverage other dollars.

I am thinking about what the next step should be – more focused community meetings on topics of interest or opportunities to share best practices?   Let me know your thoughts…….and thank you for sharing your thoughts with our team and with our board.