Page 34 - BusinessWest May 13, 2024
P. 34

 40 YEARS OF NONPROFITS
Increasingly, They Operate as an Ecosystem
 BY JOSEPH BEDNAR
[email protected]
“If we know you have a strong mission, a strong organization, we’ll put the money in your hands and say, ‘use it well.’ We’ll ask afterward how that went, but in the moment, you know what you need to achieve and how to get there.”
MEGAN BURKE
“We’ve always been a connector in the community, finding where the needs
are and connecting individuals to the services they need. We can’t do the work alone.”
MEGAN MOYNIHAN
The Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts has been funding the work of charities and nonprofits across the region since 1991. And its overriding mission hasn’t changed.
What has changed, at least recently, is how CFWM accom- plishes that mission — specifically, moving away from specifically targeted grants into a more trust-based model. Instead of seeking to put some dollars toward a specific goal, the foundation gives to organizations in a way that puts them at the center of it and allows them to dictate how they want to spend their money.
“It’s a recognition that funders don’t necessarily know what’s best for nonprofits,” said Megan Burke, the organization’s presi- dent and CEO. “It’s the people on the front lines who are dealing with constant change in the community who know the best plac- es to use those funds.”
The Community Foundation was moving in that direc- tion before the pandemic, but COVID, and the urgent needs it exposed, really accelerated the process, she explained.
“If we know you have a strong mission, a strong organization, we’ll put the money in your hands and say, ‘use it well.’ We’ll ask afterward how that went, but in the moment, you know what you need to achieve and how to get there.”
Meanwhile, the mission of Square One, which began life in 1883 as Springfield Day Nursery, has in many ways remained consistent for more than 140 years.
“We’re still doing the same type of work, although the world has changed enormously,” president and CEO Dawn DiStefano said. “Children still require care for their parents to go to work. And we’re a company that cares for children and instills confi- dence in our community that we are a safe, healthy, and high- quality place for young children to learn and be cared for.”
At the same time, she added, much has changed.
“Probably around the time BusinessWest started,” DiStefano said, “we realized something that today is quite obvious — that you can do a lot of work with children all day, but if you’re not in partnership with families and caretakers, you can hinder perma- nent growth and change. After all, learning happens 24/7.”
Specifically, Square One — it took that name in 2008 to reflect its role as more than just a day nursery, but as a key foundational element in the lives of preschoolers — has made a point over the past few decades to communicate more thoroughly with parents at the start and end of each day about the child’s lessons, experi- ences, and mood. That way, parents can continue the conversa- tions at home — and, in many cases, start their own, which builds trust between the parents and Square One’s providers.
The organization has gone beyond that level of communica- tion as well, opening a Family Support Services division about 15 years ago, which includes a home visitation program for parents who request it, including specific programs for young, first-time parents and parents in recovery.
“We see ourselves as partners with families,” DiStefano said. “If we can bring out the best in the child and families, they become productive members of our community, and we all ben- efit from that. We all do better when folks are able to engage in our world.”
Megan Moynihan, CEO of the United Way of Pioneer Val- ley, said her organization’s goal since its founding 103 years ago as Springfield Community Chest has been to meet the greatest needs of the region, from early education to food insecurity to financial literacy.
“Post-COVID, we did a community assessment to really under- stand where the needs in the community are, if they had changed or not,” she said, noting that the greatest needs right now run the
gamut from basic services, like food, to financial wellness, hous- ing access, and mental-health support.
It meets those needs through its community service cen-
ters, where people can access emergency food supplies but also mental-health resources, including a suicide-prevention hotline. There’s also a financial-wellness program called Thrive, a partner- ship with Holyoke Community College on career training — in fields like culinary arts and medical assisting — and a host of other outreaches.
“Understanding the pulse of the community is the number- one issue that needs to be addressed,” Moynihan said. “It can be mental health tomorrow, but in 10 years, it might solar power and how to transition to that. We know what today’s needs are, but
we have to be responsive to those needs, and when community needs change, we have to change, too.”
Come Together
One thing the United Way has done well over time, Moynihan noted, is connecting many resources in the community.
“If someone comes in and they are are housing-insecure, we’ll call one of the outreach workers at Health Care for the Homeless and see what kind of services are out there for them,” she said as one example. “We’ve always been a connector in the community, finding where the needs are and connecting individuals to the services they need. We can’t do the work alone.”
It’s a philosophy many nonprofits were already moving toward even before COVID — and the way it isolated people and organi- zations — really laid bare the need to connect and work together as a nonprofit ecosystem.
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For example, Burke said, someone might seek job training, but
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