Archive for June, 2012

Securing the Social Safety Net: Can We Create a Better Flashlight?

Economic volatility continues its strangle-hold on our daily news – locally, nationally, and globally.  The news is not good – shrinking financial resources; increasing human needs – urging us to consider a different future.  Futurist, Thomas Frey, has said, “Much like walking through a dark forest with a flashlight, the future only comes into focus a short distance in front of us. So how do we create a brighter flashlight?”

Last week the Support Center hosted a conversation among leaders of the nonprofit and philanthropic sector.  The discussion focused on the question “how we will be able to secure an eroding social safety net in our region in the midst of significant government funding cutbacks?”  Our panel – representing the fields of grantmaking, research, advocacy, service, and merger/collaboration, set the stage for what we hope will be an ongoing conversation.  At the Support Center, we think about the “social safety net” as being far more than just simple benefits and entitlements for those who are vulnerable.  We see the safety net as an integrated system of partners – government, philanthropy, nonprofits, and communities – all working together to insure a just, safe, and healthy life for all, including those who are living in poverty and who are the most vulnerable in our neighborhoods.

Spurred by keynote speaker Doug Bauer from the Clark Foundation, panelists agreed that “the current social safety net is not the one we need”.  The economics of the current model do not work – the need has gone up, public resources have gone down, and both will continue to do so.

According to reports from the Fiscal Policy Institute, poverty rose sharply during the recession, increasing by well over one percentage point in New York City, New York State, and in the United States from 2008 to 2010. The official poverty rate is now about 15 percent in the state and 20 percent in New York City.

The human/social cost of high unemployment is the biggest threat today.  It affects everyone, but is concentrated among low income communities.  Individuals receiving food stamps have increased by 70% in last four years – from about 1.1 million to 1.8 million.  The economic outlook is clear–pressures will continue for the foreseeable future, challenging the safety net in ever greater ways.

So the question was posed, “How do we get to the 2.0 Social Safety Net and what might it look like?”  All presenters agreed that we need a different structure, a renewed vision.  Also agreed, it is important that nonprofit leaders –those of us working, day-to-day, trying to deliver these services– take the lead in constructing it. The voices and perspectives of those closest to the needs will be critical to changing the current models.

Panelists and nonprofit leaders in the room offered these thoughts as ways to begin action toward making the changes that will be needed:

  • Advocacy – Our biggest challenge is how we mobilize sector to think in terms of “change” – to really rethink the safety net given limited resources at the government level.  Unemployment, poverty, and homelessness are problems that impact all of us – and we are a country of great wealth that needs to collectively rethink our investment in “caring” for our communities.  We must prepare our leaders, including board members, to be strong advocates.
  • Be Proactive and Expand the Definitions – We have to demand more of ourselves and elected officials. If we’re going to attack poverty and not attack racism and sexism, we might as well not do it. We can’t attack poverty until we address these problems as part of the root cause of poverty.
  • Employment and Entrepreneurship – The human and social cost of high unemployment is the biggest threat today.  It affects everyone, but is concentrated among low income communities.  It’s time for the nonprofit sector to adopt an “entrepreneurial” mindset at all levels, as many of our old models do not work.   There are clearly emerging opportunities for combining services in different ways, collaborating with other organizations, or creating more earned income.
  •  Working Capital – Philanthropists need to think more broadly about the use of their endowments and go beyond grants.  Access to working capital is a confounding issue for many service organizations and is a major obstacle to creating a nimble, efficient system.  Program related investments that free up cash to help organizations manage through cash flow crises are critical.
  • Sectors Working Together – Government, philanthropy, and nonprofits need to collaborate more regularly and more deeply.  This is a real challenge – because we all live in silos.  We can’t get too stuck in our old ways–we need to let go – sometimes it is our identity and autonomy that gets in our own way.  Boards and key leaders need to get beyond the idea that “someone has to give something up” if we collaborate and find ways to create innovative win-win partnerships.  This will take some time, and some pain, but history suggests it can be done.
  • Increased Board Engagement –Board and organizational leaders must be willing to step back from their day to day work and ask hard fundamental questions – Why do we exist? What are we trying to change?  What is our role in this?  While evidence-based outcomes and other metrics are important to nonprofits and their funders, sometimes the strong focus on providing “good outcomes” can inadvertently move nonprofits away from serving the most vulnerable (hardest to turn-around) populations.  Boards can partner with staff to keep mission and service focus clear and consistent.
  • Capacity building – Experience shows that “high touch” capacity building works best—this means funders will need to be more engaged with their grantees around building organizational capacity, understanding organizational life cycles, and determining new and effective organizational structures.  Good capacity building work means more than just giving advice; it means guiding assessment, planning, and helping with implementation to ensure successful outcomes.

So where are we headed from here?   Some funders are already providing funding for nonprofit collaborations.  An example of a fund that was developed specifically for that purpose is the New York City Merger, Acquisition, and Collaboration Fund (NYMAC), a presenter and participant in our conversation.

It is good to know that there is some early thinking and resources being contributed to change, but the question remains “What will our future look like”?  In closing, I offer a few additional quotes from Futurist Thomas Frey to fuel the conversation: “Until now, ours has been a dance with the ordinary”, “We only value that which we struggle to achieve”, and “The past is past, so get over it.”  Let us know your thoughts!



Don Crocker



The Support Center works with grantmakers and nonprofit organizations to effectively manage change including Organization Assessments, Turnarounds, Restructuring and Executive Transitions.


JOIN Our 2012 Executive Leadership Group Now!

If you are an Executive Director with big goals, join the second cohort of our Trajectory Leadership Group.  The Trajectory Leadership Group (TLG) is a small group of CEOs and Executive Directors of small to mid-sized organizations who meet monthly to support, advise, and inspire each other to find creative solutions to management, operations, and sustainability challenges.  Trajectory Leaders are individuals in various stages of their professional lives.  Their common bond is that they aspire to reach higher plateaus within their careers, have had ideas that could transform their professional workspaces, and have additional ideas for their fields that would be invigorated by the networking and feedback from peers.  Participants in the first year focused on achieving big goals such as significantly changing a board, taking the helm at an organization after being led by the founder, starting out as a new executive director, refreshing mission and focus, managing rapid growth and managing change.

The 2012 TLG cohort will launch in September.  Monthly meetings will include peer coaching sessions around individual challenges, issues-based discussions, case studies, presentations from the field, and site visits.  Individual coaching sessions are also available to participants as well as discounts for staff members on Support Center workshops.  For more information, click here .

Former participants praise the unique group atmosphere:
“It was great having continual interaction in an open environment 
with other executive directors.”  
 “I learned a lot about myself that I could not have done without
the group.”

Helen Keller Seeks Chief Development Officer

Helen Keller National Center/Helen Keller Services for the Blind is seeking a Chief Development Officer. Click here for the full position description.

HKNC/HKSB retained the Support Center to assist in creating and recruiting for this new position, while also providing related support to the board to ensure a thoughtful search and successful tenure.  This executive search builds upon the Support Center’s prior consulting activities to advance HKNC/HKSB’s creation of a more vibrant and robust development initiative that is well integrated and aligned within the organization.

Calling All Development and Executive Directors in NY: Participate in New Study on the Development Director’s Role

Community Resource Exchange (CRE) is partnering with CompassPoint Nonprofit Services and the Evelyn & Walter Haas Jr. Fund on an exciting new national study exploring the development director role in nonprofit organizations.

We encourage your participation in this research by completing the online survey if you are an Executive Director/CEO in a nonprofit that has a senior level fund development position on staff or a Senior Level Development staff person.

New York Executive Directors and Senior Level Development Staff who complete the survey will be eligible to win one of two $150 American Express giftcards. To enter the drawing, complete the survey and then email your name, organization, email address, and phone number to

Categories: Hot Topics

Tweets for Thought

We learned something new from each of these articles, and think you will too. Please share your thoughts on our blog.

Jack Shakely, the president emeritus of the California Community Foundation, says that the percentage of an organization’s budget dedicated to administrative costs should not determine the effectiveness of the organization.

10 Ways To Launch Board Recruitment

This piece, which is part of the Laramie Board Project’s ’10 Ways’ series provides very useful ideas on successful board recruitment.

Which Social Network Should You Use – And When?

Great infographic from Zinto about the users of social media. A quick tool to use to gauge the right social media platform for your constituents and donors!

David Rock’s article on why having a fresh mind makes us more likely to tackle tough problems should encourage you to take a vacation this summer!

Categories: Tweets for Thought

Next Week at the Support Center!

Start off June at the Support Center, and take a workshop to learn  about grant proposals budgets and creating a happier workplace!

Tuesday, June 5: Budgeting For Grant Proposals

Wednesday, June 6: Resolving Conflict and Differences in the Workplace