SLF Speaks Out with other Non-Profit Leaders PDF Print E-mail

What 6 nonprofit leaders say about helping community
Kaellen Hessel, Statesman Journal 7:14 a.m. PDT April 13, 2015

 

When looking at the many problems facing society, it's easy to get discouraged about being able to make any real difference. But there is hope. Throughout the Mid-Valley, nonprofits are providing services that ripple through our community and provide long-lasting change.

We asked six nonprofit leaders to share what they've learned about our community and the impact each of us can have.

They are Randy Franke of United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley; Levi Herrera-López of Mano a Mano; Sam Skillern of Salem Leadership Foundation; Alison Kelley of Liberty House; Jayne Downing of Center for Hope and Safety; and BJ Andersen of Willamette Humane Society.

Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.

What difference can one person make?

Kelley: One person can make a huge difference in the life of a child through volunteering, mentoring and contributing to nonprofits. I know that children I've mentored in the past have come up to me later and told me they remembered something I did or said and it gave them strength. Sometimes donors want to help but can only give a small amount, like $5 a month. That is incredibly important because it helps that person feel as if he or she is part of the solution, and when combined with other gifts, it all adds up to something very special.

Downing: At Center for Hope and Safety, we hear all the time, "The person I spoke to on the crisis line helped me so much." In our society, sometimes we forget how powerful it can be to listen to someone who is hurting or afraid. A connection with another human being can be life-changing.

Skillern: There is no limit to the impact one person can have. It always starts at the micro (family, school, neighborhood) level and often grows to the macro (city, state, nation, world). Imagine how fast the world will change when more and more individuals decide to go beyond themselves and serve. To love thy neighbor as thyself. Many are, but many more have the capacity.

 

How should the community measure a nonprofit's value?

Andersen: Any nonprofit should be measured by the impact of its services. I am very pleased to see there is a broad movement to change the way we measure performance that will allow nonprofits to be assessed more fairly than just the percentage of their budgets spent on direct services.

Franke: A nonprofit's value should be measured not just in the number of people served, nor in their administrative costs, but by the results from the services they provide. The most important questions to ask are: Have they identified a specific outcome? Are they measuring their work and are they making progress?

Herrera-Lopez: The true impact of a nonprofit's support cannot be measured in six or 12 months. The only person who can determine that value is the beneficiary — do they feel capable of taking action on the things that are essential to their and their families health and well-being? Metrics, such as numbers served, potential savings to public resources, survey results, program data, etc., can help support that statement. However, it is up to the client to decide if, and how, their lives are better because we came to into their lives.

What are the biggest problems facing the Mid-Valley?


Herrera-Lopez: There is a large number of families and individuals who are disconnected from the mainstream. They are disconnected from employment, schools, their neighborhoods, their families and even from themselves. This population seems to be growing, and adding more resources alone is not the answer. We currently have many resources which are effective, but many in this disconnected population are unable to access it because they do not meet a very narrow set of requirements, they are unaware they exist, they have been explicitly excluded from being able to access the most basic resources or they don't trust or can't communicate with the providers.

Skillern: Our biggest problem is that we call symptoms causes. Homelessness, addictions, broken families, hunger, lack of education, cultural conflict are all symptoms, not the root cause. The root cause? We don't really know one another, which means we don't deeply care about one another, which means we don't fully care for one another. We expect programs to fix people. Programs are helpful, but people are the true antidote to the symptoms. The best programs help people care for one another, to walk alongside one another, to bless and heal one another in relationship and hope. We don't need more programs; we need more people to step forward and love their neighbors as themselves. And not just provide food and blankets (a nice starting point), but to befriend and walk alongside the neighbor in need. Stuff helps, relationships are the answer.

Besides your own, what nonprofit do you greatly respect and why?

Kelley: Center for Hope and Safety, because that program goes right to the heart of the most high-risk, complicated violence directed at vulnerable people and children, and they offer wrap-around services to help victims become survivors and move to a place of safety and healing in their lives.

Franke: There are many excellent nonprofits, both large and small, that I respect. It is too subjective to pick just one organization. However, I will call out one specific project, Fostering Hope Initiative, that United Way funds through Catholic Community Services. It is the epitome of a collective impact partnership involving many partners including other nonprofits, schools, businesses, local government, the faith community and parents. Fostering Hope keeps kids safe, at home with their families and out of the the foster care system. Fostering Hope is committed to using the latest research, proven methods and measuring their efforts.

Downing: St. Francis Shelter and Helping Hands Resources are two incredible nonprofits and we are grateful to partner with them to help victims of domestic violence move from crisis toward self-sufficiency. We have been honored to have a collaborative partnership with them (supported by the United Way) for the last four years that has led to 90 percent of families served go on to long-term housing and stability.

What can we as a community do to better serve those in need?


Andersen: I would love to see more education about the scope of the issues facing nonprofits in every sector so that individuals and businesses can contribute in a way that makes an impact. It may be volunteering specialized skills, helping with infrastructure or networking a particular cause to your social circle. Partnerships between businesses and nonprofits is a win-win situation.

Kelley: Take time to learn about critical issues, contribute, volunteer, get involved, meet new people and recognize that we need to address both intervention as well as prevention.

Franke: As a community we can encourage more collaboration among nonprofits to achieve better results and utilize donated dollars more efficiently.

Downing: Do what you can where you are in life. If all you can do is give some paper towels to a nonprofit to help those they serve — know it makes a difference. Every dollar they save can allow them to help more people in need. Volunteer if you have time and talents to share. If you can offer financial support, give what you can each month to help the program be as stable as possible.

Herrera-Lopez: The first thing we must do is listen to those in need about their barriers and what would help them overcome those barriers. Mano a Mano doesn't believe in handouts. But we believe that not everyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps because some people don't even have any boots.

Skillern: We need to stop seeing things as us and them. We need to stop seeing people as needy and less fortunate. All of us have assets, all of us have needs. When we use terms like clients and recipients, we create a dichotomy where someone is naturally better and someone is naturally worse. Instead, by viewing each other as neighbors, each with talents and shortcomings, and creating intersections where assets and needs can be shared, it creates an experience of dignity and honor, rather than one of pity and charity.

Why does the world need nonprofits? What's their purpose?


Andersen: Nonprofits are the champions of un-met needs. We are often more flexible than government social services and can respond to needs more quickly and effectively. We bridge the gaps, and help those humans, animals and environments that would otherwise be suffering and impacted in ways that we, as a society and as individuals, have deemed unacceptable.

Franke: In his travels through America in the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville, author of "Democracy in America," noted that Americans formed civic associations, including philanthropic associations. Americans did not wait for government action, but rather aimed to solve problems through their associations at a grassroots level. Citizens helping their fellow citizens through voluntary action strengthens democracy, and has helped create America's civil society.

Herrera-Lopez: There will always be a need for a community to come together and help each other. Not everyone can dedicate themselves to helping others full time. Nonprofits are run by groups of people who stand up and say, "We'll take the time to make sure those in need will have someone to help them." So long as there is inequity, as long as children who go to bed hungry, there will be a need for nonprofits.

What makes our nonprofit community unique?


Andersen: I am not sure that we are unique. When I attend national conferences and meet my colleagues from around the country, I think we are all facing similar challenges and seeing similar advancements in our capacity to serve. Some are a little ahead on the road, and they are the mentors we turn to for help moving forward. Some are a little behind, and we reach out a hand to help them along. We are all together in this mission of making the world a better place for the future.

Kelley: We have an incredible amount of goodwill and support in our community, in and through and between our nonprofits. That is golden. We want to nourish that!

Downing: I think all of the nonprofits in our community work hard to not duplicate services. We try to respect the unique role each other plays in the community and collaborate whenever we can to provide the best services possible.

Skillern: There is a growing appreciation for the definition and the value of collaboration. What was once a concept and a catch-phrase is becoming an effective reality. We still have a ways to go, and competition often trumps collaboration, but we are pointed in the right direction and practicing the craft in greater and greater numbers. The recent creation of the Center for Community Innovation is evidence of a growing sense that we're all in this together, and together we can accomplish much more than a collection of silos. It should also be noted that Salem-Keizer is unique for the breadth and depth of collaboration that exists with the faith community.

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