Non Profits Creating a Better World

When I attained the advanced degree of my dreams, I thought it would be my destiny. I wouldn’t have guessed that the universe would provide me with a large menu of world experiences that eventually determined the course of my life. In this trajectory, I encountered face to face some of the most devastating human sufferings including addictions, mental illness, poverty, homelessness, violence, and immigrants’ challenges to name a few. But time after time, along with the pain, there were moments of ecstasy and pure joy.

In retrospect, I found the humanness that continuously strives to change the world for the best. That was embodied in corporations and philanthropies, academic institutions and governments, business, faith communities and civil society organizations. Yet nonprofits (NPOs) located in the most unlikely places humbled me the most as their workers were men and women from all creeds, races and ethnicities who worked in the trenches with names that were rarely recognized and whose incomes were mostly on the south side of the spectrum, but whose hearts were always at the right place.

Indeed, non-profit organizations are not expected to be lucrative as they consistently channel their revenues to achieve their mission, so the focus of their expenses is on basic needs. And still, most of them are among the most efficient enterprises, not just because they are pursuing services on the name of justice, but also because they are accountable to their funders, donors and communities.

Because of accountability, NPOs are constantly monitored by teams of contract managers, finance professionals and evaluators who not only supervise their activities, maintain detailed accounting records and measure outcomes to check for their return on investment (ROI), but who also provide support to enhance their overall impact. This way, donors are ensured that their charitable giving is not only used properly, but more importantly that it yields the intended positive changes.

When we ponder on the cost of health, social and environmental programs, among others, versus the alternative, it is clear that there are multiple reasons to keep them alive. Decreasing funding from existing NPOs, or ceasing financial support for needed causes can be devastating as negative unintended consequences may cause community fractures. The reality is that by neglecting one basic area of need will not only be devastating for individuals and communities, but will create a domino effect that may critically impact other service areas as illustrated below. I caution the reader that although not all consequences are universal, they are prototypical and should be considered in any decision making before inactivating any services.

Let’s first explore the absence of accessible child care in low income communities. With no child care, especially for single parents, they will be unable to hold a job. This forced unemployment will not only decrease their financial stability but also their overall well-being. Eventually and even more troublesome will be the promotion of discontent, and in some cases, the intensification of drug and alcohol consumption, and, the flareup of violence which, in turn, will affect the cost of public health and legal services.

Similarly, losing after school care for children and teens has shown to have severe consequences. When there is no place to go after school, students either roam the streets at hours when juvenile delinquency spikes, or, stay home without scholastic support and needed activities for their normal development. It is well known that students who lag behind academically are more likely to become dropouts causing a bleak future as they enter low paying jobs leading to financial insecurity and overall unhappiness. Alternatively, students who attend after school programs often secure homework and tutoring assistance for all grades and pre-college exam preparation for high school students which enhances the probability of receiving at least, a high school diploma. High school education boosts the likelihood of moving forward into a professional career, or, to a profitable trade that increases financial security. Alternatively, idle time after school promotes juvenile delinquency, drug and alcohol use and violence conducive toward juvenile detention which is astronomically more expensive than keeping a young person occupied in activities that expand their intellectual curiosity and physical capacities.

Last but not least, teen pregnancy prevention programs. Teen parenthood is not a temporary situation as it brings long lasting consequences to both mother and child. Not only these young women will have a difficult future, but so will their babies as their mothers are not in the financial position, or are equipped with the necessary skills and resources to take care of them. Consequently, informal support networks are forced to accommodate these young mothers and their children within a welfare system encompassing a number of governmental and nongovernmental organizations in an expansive web of services that ranges from medical to child care and beyond.

Often we wonder how NPOs that are mostly small and medium size, whose budgets are tight and are created by just one passionate individual, or by a small group of concerned individuals, can accomplish so much and reach out so expansively.   The secret lies in their resourcefulness and their unity: to strengthen and complement each other. They make alliances, collaborate, partner and they embrace the work of volunteers to maximize their effectiveness and overall impact. Thus, they become stronger.

In the nonprofit world, generally speaking, everyone has something special to bring to the table and when needed, they build a bigger table. I feel that NPOs grow in bundles, and still, each one shines with its own light regardless of size or type of service.

To recite all aspects of NPOs in a short essay is impossible, and doesn’t do justice to their collective gifts to society. I chose a NPO, among several, that will illustrate how a well run organization opens a world full of possibilities for its clients.

Back in 1999, when I worked as a researcher and evaluator, a request for proposals (RFP) was released to fund a group of very much needed after school programs in our communities. Among the responses, there was one submitted by a young Haitian woman, Ms. Reginale Durandisse, who aspired to serve 25 elementary school children living in a low financial enclave located in the City of Lake Worth, Florida. At the time, her finances were weak and a more stable organization came to her rescue to have the program funded. Soon afterwards, the program started to burst not just with more students but with overflowing enthusiasm and a middle school site became a reality as the local Gym was offered to house older children. These were the beginnings of For the Children, Inc, (FTC) “a place where children come first” and whose mission is “to provide children with high-quality education, recreational and family support services that foster positive physical, social, emotional, cognitive growth, and development.”   Moving forward, as FTC closes 2017, the organization serves 352 children in 5 locations, and counts with a budget of $1,244,963.00 that pays for an after school care network stretching from Pre-K to high school, owns a Health Center to provide therapy and counseling to children and families and tends two community gardens managed by the children who benefit from the produce for nourishment and learn entrepreneurship along the way. This continuity of services is partly the basis for their success to attract and keep children attending its programs. The most impressive part is its quality: in the academic year 2016 in the early childhood program, 93.6 percent of the students were ready to learn and to start kindergarten on time; the high school students rendered a 99 percent graduation rate; and in middle school Program, 99.5 percent of students were promoted to the next grade level. Last but not least, as the proverb says, the success of the master is measured by the achievements of the student. The FTC has produced 2 valedictorians, and, two of its alumni who spread their wings. One by attending the NY University of the Arts and the other by joining an IVY League school to major in sciences. Because of its successes, FTC is positioned among the exemplary organization of its kind. (For more information check: http://forthechildrenfirst.com).

I hope this very brief encounter with NPOs will raise awareness into the delicate fabric of our communities where each thread is interwoven with many others. I also hope that because of their compassion, dedication, and the belief that many things are possible, NPOs create a better world, one day at a time.

About Luz Van Meek, Ph.D., CFLE

LVM Non-Profits Strategic Consulting Services (LVM) is dedicated to help communities to thrive through the work of their charitable organizations. Over 25 years of working in the non-profits world, both local and national, has provided Dr Van Meek with the skills to strategize the steps from the unexpected “aha” moment and idea to the successful achievement of outcomes. LVM works in areas including children, families and women issues from arts and music to education and health. It provides services from consultation to program development and evaluation, organizational frameworks, strategic planning, board structures and grant writing.

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