It takes a village, a region, and even the online community to help provide social services today.
As government funding shrinks under increasingly tighter budgets, SouthCoast-based nonprofits are relying all the more on private donors, community foundations, volunteers and other creative sources to fulfill their missions.
Nonprofits such as the Community Foundation of Southeastern Massachusetts, The Women’s Fund of Southeastern Massachusetts, United Way of Greater New Bedford, Immigrants’ Assistance Center and the Buzzards Bay Coalition are feeling the growing demand for their services, yet they face challenges, which in many cases, come down to funding and staffing.
This story by Aimee Chiavaroli first appeared in the Standard Times on Nov. 11th, 2017 – HERE
To balance the equation, SouthCoast nonprofits are tapping into the power of social media, refocusing their services and messages and diversifying their funding sources.
SOCIAL MEDIA STRATEGIES
As donors have become more digital savvy, so too have SouthCoast nonprofit organizations. Going beyond their traditional websites, nonprofits are trying to harness the power of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.
To follow its mission of protecting the water around the bay, Buzzards Bay Coalition has three core focuses: science and advocacy, water protection and community engagement, said Alicia Porter, communications director.
The coalition has leveraged social media tools to increase its community engagement. The coalition uses Facebook and Twitter, but really hits home with Instagram, she said.
Instagram allows the coalition to promote the beauty of Buzzards Bay to “help people remember we live in a special place,” Porter said. It also allows the group to share photos from kayak trips, walks and trails and other outdoor activities SouthCoast residents enjoy with the coalition.
With an administrative and marketing officer on board, The Women’s Fund of Southeastern Massachusetts now has an active Facebook presence. The nonprofit is getting into Twitter and thinking about Instagram, too.
However, the challenge for The Women’s Fund is staffing to support all the facets of social media and the website. “That’s a real capacity challenge” because staff members are generally part time, said Valerie Bassett, the fund’s executive director.
Balancing staffing with the budget is also a concern for Helena DaSilva Hughes, executive director of the Immigrants’ Assistance Center.
She hopes to double the budget to add staff and the hours they work. She’d specifically like to have a part-time grant writer, program developer and someone dedicated to social media. Currently, the organization has a website and Facebook page with a small following.
An Irish gentleman who the center helped become a U.S. citizen created its website and helps keep it up to date. Thanks to volunteer efforts, the center put out its first newsletter this year, which it plans to put out twice a year to keep donors informed.
United Way of Greater New Bedford has had a marketing staffer to help get the word out. And as technology advances, United Way has changed some of its communications strategies. For example, for last year’s Holiday Wishes Initiative the organization used text-to-give and 103 out of 146 donors took advantage of that option, said Michelle Hantman, president and chief executive officer. The organization raised $10,000 more than the previous year and plans to make the giving option available again.
At this year’s clambake, United Way had its own Snapchat filter that got 1,700 views. While that doesn’t necessarily mean those who used it donated, “it connects them to United Way, it connects them to our cause, it exposes them to us as an organization,” she said.
Even with all its efforts to use social media, Hantman said it’s the volunteers and donors who have first-hand experiences with the organization and believe in its work.
“They’re the ones that are our best advocates,” she said.
The Community Foundation of Southeastern Massachusetts has started to be more aggressive online by increasing its social media presence – Facebook and Instagram – and hiring a director of development who also works on marketing.
One of the top challenges of the Community Foundation is “for people to understand who we are, what we do and what value we bring,” said John Vasconcellos, president. “A lot of it is about showing up and letting people know that we’re here.”
The strategy appears to have worked. Last year, the foundation received 11 requests for funding, while it received 30 requests this year, he said.
“You’re helping someone down the street, the next town over,” Vasconcellos said. “For me, it has to begin at home, and I think that’s what we symbolize.”
As potential donors are overloaded with possibilities, it’s imperative that nonprofit organizations fine tune their message and, in some case, refocus.
A few years ago, The Women’s Fund sharpened its focus to increase the percentage of women earning a living wage, which is “enough income to be able to support themselves and their family,” said Bassett, the fund’s executive director.
“One out of every four women in New Bedford and Fall River live at or below the federal poverty line which is very, very low,” she noted.
With that focus, the fund runs the LifeWork Project, assisting predominantly low-income, single mother, heads of household. The 3-year-old program helps women improve “family and housing stability, well-being, education and training, financial management and employment and career management.”
The refocus was promoted by new leadership and results from a community assessment. The fund learned that its work was valued and appreciated by the community, but there was a lack of clarity on what it was trying to do, Bassett said.
“To repair that economic fabric is difficult long-term work, and that is actually part of why we’ve been refining and renewing and making our strategies more ambitious,” Bassett said.
The Women’s Fund plans to expand and grow its reach and “really make this region a place with stronger, powerful paths to opportunity for women that we make happen together,” said Bassett.
To accomplish her goal, Bassett wants to have more people at the table such as women of color, wealthy women and women working their way out of poverty. She’d also like to see more young women and men involved with the fund.
“We’re focused on equity for women, but those are men’s issues as well,” she said.
At the Immigrants’ Assistance Center, when DaSilva Hughes sees a need, she creates a program, even though it might be underfunded or there may be no funding available. For example, with the help of a local therapist, she created a social group for the elder immigrant community who visit the center.
About 250 elders visit the center each month. Many of them are illiterate in their own language and don’t speak English. The No. 1 reason they visit the center is for help with health care and insurance, she said.
“They have these powerful immigration stories,” she said. Forty-five elderly clients visit on Tuesdays for the social group.
With the help of local organizations, the group has been able to go on field trips, create an original poetry book and work on a documentary about Portuguese vegetable gardens that DaSilva Hughes hopes to have finished by the end of the year.
“We need to recognize the wisdom and the talent that our elders have,” she said.
“In order to do this work, you have to believe in the mission of the organization,” she added.
At the center, five languages are spoken fluently: Portuguese, Spanish, Cape Verdean Creole, French and English.
“We can relate to our clients,” she added.
A challenge the United Way of Greater New Bedford faces is that its work is “so vast in scope,” said Hantman, president and CEO.
“A challenge for us is building that strong case for support for people to value the scope of the work and the impact of the work and want to partner with us,” Hantman said.
She acknowledged that if people are passionate about a particular issue or organization, they will lean more toward an organization more narrow in scope.
“United Way is a little bit more broad in its reach, but that’s what makes our impact so strong,” she said.
As budgets become tighter for donors and traditional sources, like the government, nonprofit organizations have had to adapt to stay alive. From refocusing their financial sources to fundraisers, SouthCoast groups are making it work.
Since 2009, the Immigrants’ Assistance Center has seen a decline in state and federal funding, said DaSilva Hughes. The center realized it needed two fundraisers, so it added a spring fundraiser in 2009, which was an addition to the annual summer fundraiser. Both are events with hearty hor d’oeuvres, beer and wine and are made possible through SouthCoast businesses or organizations that offer discounts or donate event space.
For the first time, the center put out a “plea” for help to continue providing services after the 2016 presidential election. The effort paid off: The center raised around $60,000 this year, likely the most the nonprofit has raised throughout its history, DaSilva Hughes estimated — at least in her 33-year tenure.
“The increased need for our services happened right after the election,” she said.
For example, participation in the citizenship program has skyrocketed. The year before the election, the center helped about 175 people apply for citizenship; this year, more than 575 people have been helped.
As the executive director, she’s also the grant writer and program developer. She’s technically a 35-hour staff member but dedicates a lot more time to the job.
“When you’re wearing so many hats, it makes it difficult to compete” with other organizations for funding and grants DaSilva Hughes said, because grant writing falls on her and is time-consuming.
The bulk of the annual operating budget ($350,000) comes from foundations, she said, including the Island Foundation, the Community Foundation and United Way.
In the past 10 years, the United Way of Greater New Bedford has become more focused on diversifying, thanks to a troubling trend: Campaign support, which used to be driven by people making contributions through their workplace, has shrunk over time.
“We’ve always been reliant on the corporate sector,” said Hantman, president and CEO. The campaign support drives funding that United Way provides to other organizations in the community.
In Fiscal Year 2017, workplace giving still made up 63 percent of campaign support while corporate gifts made up 25 percent, individuals 10 percent and Live United 365 was 2 percent.
At the same time, campaign support made up 36 percent, or $810,000; state contracts made up a total of 35 percent. The operating budget is about $2.15 million.
“For us, the state contract, the state funding has actually increased,” said Hantman. She noted United Way’s Family Center is fully funded through the state. Other than its core 5.5 staff members, about 20 staff members are made possible through state contracts.
Along the note of diversifying, Hantman said the organization is looking to plan more fundraising events throughout the year, aside from its major annual fundraiser, the clambake with lobster.
Other agencies are looking to lessen the reliance on public funds.
“When government sources dry up, we need our members more than ever,” said Mark Rasmussen, president of the Buzzards Bay Coalition. “We exist because of our membership.”
More than 8,600 individuals, families and businesses support the coalition’s work.
Support from members on the SouthCoast and Cape Cod make up 90 percent of the coalition’s $2.45 million operating budget. However, government contracts are “the most volatile source of funding for us,” Rasmussen said.
Oct. 1 was the beginning of the coalition’s fiscal year, and Rasmussen said he doesn’t expect much in terms of government-funded projects.
Funding is more in control through membership and events, which have grown over time. With any amount of support, members can receive newsletters, emails and the coalition’s annual report. The coalition offers members and the public bike rides, nature walks, educational classes for children and adults, and more.
The Women’s Fund of Southeastern Massachusetts, with an operating budget of about $350,000, relies on donors and corporate sponsors through annual fundraisers, too.
“We don’t get the federal or state resources in this region that really we need, and we rely on each other,” Bassett said, noting regional giving is important.
The organization is also a funder and has a two-year planning process, Bassett said. It has a small endowment, but has to do a lot of fundraising.
The Women’s Fund hosts an annual Women’s Leadership Breakfast, Stand Up For Women comedy night and the largest one fundraiser is the Mother’s Day Tiara 5K.
“This year, there was bad weather, and we really took a hit and not as many people came,” she said of the run. In such cases is where corporate sponsors come in.
Bassett likes to refer to the fund as a “social profit” instead of nonprofit, noting profit does come out of this work: “We’re building a better society; we’re building justice; we’re building opportunity.”
The Women’s Fund is a fund of the Community Foundation, which “works with philanthropists to create permanent charitable funds to support local nonprofits who seek to improve the quality of life in the SouthCoast.” It’s as much as a funder as a nonprofit.
“Our job is really building philanthropic resources so that nonprofits can survive,” Vasconcellos said. “We become more important when funding for government sources shrinks.
“We are the private alternative.”
With an operating budget of about $740,000, most of that money comes from the fee equivalent to 1 percent of the market value of the funds that partner with the Community Foundation. Otherwise, the foundation relies on private annual gifts with an average of about $500.
In terms of goals, the Community Foundation hopes to build its leadership role and expand on what it’s able to do, he said, including expanding its $32 million asset base and become a promoter of strong best practices in the nonprofit world.
“We want to become a really strong resource for smart, innovative, efficient nonprofits,” he said.
About the nonprofits
Community Foundation of Southeastern Massachusetts
Operating Budget: about $740,000
Staff members: 6
Volunteers: 60, includes board members, committees and annual fundraiser
Annual Fundraiser: Summer’s Last Blast, raised over $130,000 this year
The Women’s Fund of Southeastern Massachusetts
Operating budget: $350,000 including all funds (Action Fund, LifeWork Project Fund).
Staff members: three people, two for LifeWork
Volunteers: about 70 active
Annual fundraisers: Women’s Fund Leadership Breakfast, Stand Up For Women comedy night, Mother’s Day Tiara 5K
United Way of Greater New Bedford
Operating budget: $2.15 Million
Staff members: 5 core staff, 12 through state contracts
Volunteers: about 120 on committees, special events. Last year’s Hunger Heroes Project day had 175 volunteers. All together closer to 500 people engaged in United Way project, initiative or event
Annual fundraiser: clambake with lobster
The Immigrants’ Assistance Center
Operating budget: $350,000 (last year)
Annual fundraisers: summer and spring
Buzzards Bay Coalition
Operating budget: $2.45 million
Staff members: 18, 6 Commonwealth Corps Service Members/MassLIFT-AmeriCorps Service Members
Volunteers: Close to 500 (includes those who test water samples through Baywatchers program, fundraisers and events, on trails, board of directors, leadership council)
Major fundraisers: Watershed Ride, Swim
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