Reflections From the Community

Over the past few months, the community responsive team has held another series of dialogues with nonprofit agencies in branches of the Cleveland library system.

We have had the privilege of meeting with over 130 individuals representing the many sectors of the nonprofit community. During these sessions, we gave an overview of grantmaking at the foundation; shared what we learned in our first round of community conversations as well as the Center for Effective Philanthropy survey; and what we have done, to date, with these suggestions. And then we asked our partners to think about and respond to the following questions:

  • What are the challenges and opportunities facing your organization in the next 18 months?
  • What is working well with the Cleveland Foundation? What could be improved?
  • How do we build better relationships with our grantees?

This blog will focus on the first question – the challenges and opportunities of the coming year for nonprofits. Our nonprofit colleagues broke into groups of 4-6 members to share and discuss the opportunities that the agency they worked for was facing as well as what they had heard from other groups. Here is some of what we heard:

As you can imagine, there were many challenges particularly as the fall-out from the economic downturn continues. Grantees talked about the increased need for services, the increased complexity of those needs and the changing face of that client as individuals struggle to find employment. The issue of long term unemployment and its impact on the families and the community was on the minds of many. Grantees were working hard to meet those needs but fundraising was a concern particularly in light of the state and county budgets. Some noted the strain on staff due to the increased need in this community. There were questions about the impact of the current county scandal and how the new county government would affect organizations. 

Grantees noted the passion of their staff and the increased workload. One agency leader noted that during tough times, professional development and/or training is sometimes the first item to be slashed from the budget. Yet, professional development is a critical tool to ensure that staff is ready to meet the increased demand, avoid burn-out and help retain quality staff.

We heard that committed donors were decreasing support, it was hard to engage new donors, and competition was stiff for tight resources. Grantees wondered about what happens after the stimulus dollars are spent while others noted that government funding opportunities were targeted and time-limited. Finally, some of our grantees spoke about the concern around putting basic needs first in terms of funding.

Yet the participants shared many opportunities to explore in the coming months. Attendees talked about the openness to change, sharing resources and information and the prospect of building on the strengths of the nonprofits. Others spoke about how to engage volunteers more fully in the work while others talked about how technology could support new ways of providing services. Many talked about the opportunity of connecting organizations for deeper collaboration and enhanced efficiencies. Others noted that with the shortage of capital that this might provide the opportunities to reinvest in existing assets.

Several members of the community strongly believe that now is the time to focus on the benefits of nonprofits as an industry. Nonprofits contribute to the economic development of the region through its employment base and resulting payroll taxes, its ability to attract people to the region, its safety-net features and more. How do we make sure this message is heard in our community?

In the coming year, nonprofits will be taking advantage of many of these opportunities to tell its own individual story better to ensure that its mission is implemented effectively and clients or patrons are served. Are there other critical opportunities or challenges that we missed? 

Let us know….. and next week I will focus on sharing the other feedback that we heard from our partners.