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Nonprofits adjusting to changing economy

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Executives in the nonprofit sector in Greenville and Greenville County have taken a look at their operations and submitted to an assessment to better position themselves for successful outcomes. Results show organizations have a strong vision and a good sense of the community in which they work, but areas of improvement remain.

Debbie Nelson, president and founder of DNA Creative Communications in Greenville, said a group of nonprofit executives, funders and consultants formed a steering committee last year to better understand the capacity needs of the nonprofit sector in Greenville. The goals of the group were to:

  • Collect data to design capacity building efforts
  • Strengthen partnerships among nonprofits and funders interested in supporting organizational and system-wide capacity
  • Gain a deeper understanding of capacity needs and opportunities
  • Develop appropriate local strategies to address capacity needs
  • Improve the impact of philanthropic investments in capacity building

Nelson’s DNA Creative Communications is a nonprofit marketing firm that assists nonprofit organizations with strategic communications, brand identity and public relations. She said 49 nonprofit organizations in Greenville participated in a capacity assessment administered by the TCC Group, a national leader in capacity for nonprofits. The assessment measured each organization’s effectiveness in leadership, adaptability, management, technical skills and organizational culture. The results show the strengths and priority areas of Greenville’s nonprofit sector.

Deborah McKetty, CEO of CommunityWorks in Greenville, said the nonprofit sector is going through some growing pains as it adjusts to community needs and the economy.

“It’s not intentional, but we work in silos. There are so many things to balance,” she said. “We have to be more entrepreneurial in how we manage and operate, and not be just a bunch of well-meaning volunteers. We need to run like a corporation.”

McKetty said nonprofits need to look at the core of the problems in the community, not just respond to needs or create programs to get grants. She said there are community-level problems that need to be addressed, like education and workforce.

“There are 18,000 unfilled jobs in the community, and the flip side of that is that people are still living in poverty. We need to have all hands on deck,” she said. “What we realize is we need to operate more in crisis intervention. We can do what we do to meet needs, but what creates those needs?”

United Way of Greenville County has found success in its workplace campaigns, but the workforce is changing, said United Way spokesman Mike Posey.

“We’ve been fortunate. We had 700 company campaigns last year, but now we’re working to reach out to smaller, nontraditional businesses,” he said. “There are smaller entrepreneurs out there and it is an increasing challenge to reach them.”

Posey had a thought similar to that of McKetty when he said nonprofits can’t just stop at meeting one problem. He cited the United Way’s Cycle of Success as a program to address problems before they arise. Posey said the Cycle of Success has programs that reach community members from the time they are born, through school to graduation. It addresses life essentials, like disaster assistance, food, safe shelter, housing and health care. Cycle of Success also offers school readiness programs through initiatives like Born Learning and Institute for Child Success.

Both Posey and McKetty pointed out that communication and working together are key to nonprofit sector success. It is that communication that helped them weather the last recession.

“We understand when people can’t give, but we need to continue to communicate,” he said. “A nonprofit will ebb and flow with the economy, we do what we can and donors and volunteers do what they can.”

CommunityWorks started in 2008 as Greenville Housing Fund, a local housing trust fund created from a partnership between the United Way of Greenville County, Greenville County Redevelopment Authority and the city of Greenville.

“CommunityWorks had a grandiose plan to support affordable housing right before the recession,” McKetty said. “By the end of 2009, the recession was blamed on housing. We decided to stay the course. It shows the resilience of our organization. Leadership has been exceptional, adaptable and responsive to changing needs.”

Reach Teresa Cutlip at 864-720-1223.

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