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How nonprofits can thrive in challenging times

The four organizations receiving the Allen Foundation’s first annual Creative Leadership Awards reflect five basic leadership principles.

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“Commitment to their greater communities” is the Allen Foundation’s second principle. Creative leaders see themselves as integral to the community, said Coliton, “not separate, and with goals in common.” So the rising dropout rate in many communities prompted Jill Walters, executive director of CLA recipient Portland YouthBuilders, to develop a nationally recognized program for students who have left the school system, to help them earn a high school diploma or a GED while they learn green construction techniques. Once they graduate from the YouthBuilder program, they have preferred entrance to local apprenticeships, Coliton said.

Fulfilling a commitment as an integral part of one's community can be complex in places like South King County, which is moving toward a majority minority population. Nonprofits there need cultural competence to do their work, said Mike Heinisch, executive director of Kent Youth & Family Services. An agency’s task becomes especially complex, he added, when fiduciary responsibility includes using approaches rooted in research and proven effective; evidence-based practices may not be normed to a client's particular ethnic group. KYFS's commitment has been to develop “a new world view and mindset in order to respect, learn about, and work within” a variety of cultures in the community, using proven strategies that help people make changes they need in their lives.

“The ability to realistically assess circumstances and see possibilities where others do not” is also an essential principle in a time of economic stringencies, according to the Allen Foundation. Leaders need to be “brutally honest about facts and data,” finding in them possibilities others might not see, said Coliton. CLA awardee Literary Arts is thriving in current circumstances because director Andrew Proctor has right-sized it, she said. Proctor reduced the number of past programs to achieve financial stability, but strategically, so that in the process he actually increased the size of the Literary Arts audience — for example, by forming partnerships with Oregon Public Broadcasting and with local schools. Proctor also spearheaded the building of a storefront neighborhood center that hosts a lively variety of literary programs, Coliton said.

"Brutal honesty” about finances also helped the tiny National Alliance on Mental Illness-Greater Seattle grow its influence after major funding cuts. NAMI can maintain its advocacy efforts, its public education programs, a unique role of supporting family members of people living with mental illnesses and two permanent group homes for adults in recovery because the mostly volunteer-driven organization has been making many small changes, said executive director Christine Lindquist. Among these are "ending a ridiculous lease on an expensive copy machine and insulating the building.” A focus on new economies such as no longer printing the newsletter in color led to the use of social media, which are not only free but also invite participation from the younger generation. ”Now we’re running nine programs and three facilities on a $185,000 annual budget, and we’re likely to conclude 2012, like last year, with a budget surplus.”

Friends of the Children-King County (FOC), which matches at-risk children from first grade through high school graduation with long-term individual mentors, saw budget-savvy possibilities in taking advantage of what other nonprofits offer gratis. “We aligned our milestones for youth with best practices from nonprofits working more in youth development,” said executive director Kelly Stockman Reid, thereby strengthening FOC's program without straining its finances. Her organization also partners with Youth in Focus, which offers photography classes that FOC youth can attend. With this partnership “Youth in Focus reaches a population they wouldn’t necessarily reach, and we offer our kids a way to develop artistic self-expression” through photography, “where we’re not going to be experts,” said Reid. “We’re coming together to make this happen.”

“Flexibility about how they realize their mission” is the fourth Allen Foundation principle. Creative leaders “don’t have any 'sacred cows' in their program,” said Coliton. Clearly, for example, SAM's Jackson-Dumont and Delta School’s Holmberg had set aside any rigid, reverential definitions they might have held, respectively, of art museums and schools as being mainly conservatories for masterpieces and traditional knowledge.


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Comments:

Posted Sat, Nov 10, 7:02 p.m. Inappropriate

The number of nonprofits rose dramatically in the go-go-go years since the late 1980's. There are far too many duplications, and too many that exist but caonnot find proof they accomplish. When salaries out percentage programs, that's a problem.

Will the majority of nonprofits survive? Doubtful, unless they merge and join forces,and focus. Darwins' theory always works, survival of the fittest, the most needed, or the smartest and sometimes it boils down to survival of the most cagey, the quick.

Lean, mean, and earning (ie, results focused) $$$$ funding must rule. Nothing is for free, and nothing is sacred. This recession isn't over by a longshot.

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