It was a beautiful fall day when more than 30 organizations came together to share their thoughts on what was happening in Lake and Geauga counties. There were similarities between what we heard in some of our Cuyahoga County conversations but also subtle differences and new ideas were raised.
Here are my recollections based on notes and the dialogue we held as a group:
In terms of challenges, agencies talked about an increase in demand for services which in some instances meant an increase of clients placed on waiting lists. Others noted a shift in the needs of clients with many requiring more financial assistance, most likely due to the prolonged economic downturn. Agencies, like their counterpoints in Cuyahoga County, were worried about state budget cuts and how to find other sources of funds to make up for those diminishing dollars. Many suggested that nonprofit organizations did not have the capacity to develop additional resources. Finally, some noted that for those agencies that rely on memberships – either individuals or organizations – this was an expense some had to drop despite the value of the services.
In terms of opportunities, agencies were finding creative ways of doing more with less but some noted the need for more volunteers to help with implementing their missions. For those who were doing this well, it was an opportunity to share its knowledge with others. In shifting or re-thinking its priorities, agencies felt they had the ability to conduct operations differently, perhaps collaborating with another agency or reaching out to a specific segment of the community. Individuals noted the opportunities in health (but with the challenge of implementing electronic health records), with stimulus dollars and in buying property that once were impossible to afford.
The group had a long discussion about the role of boards and the need for training around responsibilities, particularly in the area of fundraising. Topics including finding good board members, the time needed to education and train individual members and the impact on the executive director when good board members rotate off.
The nonprofit community appreciated the role of the Lake-Geauga Fund in the community and having an office that was centrally located. Many liked having the inquiry first, rather than submitting a full proposal. One area that the community asked the foundation to think about was having flexibility in reporting deadlines. Many times the results of the project are not yet fully known when the project is “officially” done. Given the importance of outcomes, it was suggested that important data may be missing from these final reports.
Another related topic of conversation was the need for balance with operating or infrastructure support to ensure quality. Some participants noted that agencies are being held to very high standards in terms of deliverables or outcomes. At the same time, many funding sources such as the Federal or State government, United Way, and foundations put strict limits on administrative expenses. Grantees asked for a better balance and flexibility as it felt like most funders were tipping toward project-only support which was causing a lot of pain for the nonprofit community. Participants asked the funding community for a deeper appreciation and/or understanding for the need for quality staff, updated systems, equipment and supplies to ensure the best possible outcomes for the clients being served.
What else should we be talking about? Let us know…