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What New York nonprofits learned in 2017

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Illustration by Zach Williams/ NYN Media

Political uncertainty at the federal level led many New York nonprofits to become more political in 2017. A looming state budget deficit and cuts to federal social services programs will likely keep up the pressure on nonprofits to maintain their public visibility as they fight for critical funding. But nonprofit leaders from across the state say such issues were only part of the story.

A dozen of them submitted lessons learned and predictions for the upcoming year. Their causes are varied – fighting homelessness, domestic violence, illness, poverty, gentrification and drug abuse – but they all shared a commitment to grow this upcoming year.

Zone 126

Zone 126

WCC of NY

Women's City Club

NYSN

NYS

Green-Wood Cemetery

Green-Wood Cemetery

Goddard Riverside Comm Ctr.

Goddard Riverside 

Rebuilding Together NYC

Rebuilding Together 

NPCC of NY

NPCC

People Inc.

People Inc.

Odyssey House

Odyssey House

The Floating Hospital

The Floating Hospital

Picture the Homeless

Picture the Homeless

Shine Foundation

Shine Foundation


Anthony Lopez is the executive director of Zone 126 in Queens.

In 2018, (we must) be clear on what the board’s role is with helping you achieve your organization’s goals. The coalition of non­profit and school partners that bring Zone 126’s work to life know all too well that in a period of economic contraction – and yes, it’s coming at the local, state and federal levels – neighborhoods are on the front lines. Finding ways for area residents living in concentrated pockets of poverty to co­-exist with gentrification in Astoria and Long Island City requires the right mix of global and local policy solutions where citizens look to each other to build and sustain both the local economy and its learning institutions.

It falls under the umbrella of localism – a community­-grown concept and effort that’s about building resiliency in a specific community, backed and sustained by a strong local economy and public institutions. Let’s take a hyper-local perspective and keep the attention on what’s happening to people at the ground level where it counts. The opportunity to do this in a time of retrenchment can be very exciting.

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Carole Wacey is the executive director of Women’s City Club of New York.

The lessons the Women’s City Club have learned over the last century were just as relevant in 2017 as they will be in 2018: We can rise up, mobilize, and respond to make a difference. In 2018, fast-moving changes in federal policies and budget and program cuts will continue to impact the lives of all New Yorkers – including nonprofits across our city, state and nation – that endeavor to preserve many of the rights we have long cherished.

As one of our earliest members, Eleanor Roosevelt, once said, ‘With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.’ We believe this new climate will generate new thoughts and actions that will inevitably lead to measures addressing hate, violence, misconduct, and divisiveness and improve the quality of life for all.

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Kelly Sturgis is executive director of the New York State Network for Youth Success in Troy.

This year, we have started thinking of partnership in a different way that really encompasses the majority of our work. In the policy field, we participate and co-lead several coalitions, and the agencies involved serve as partners in reaching a mutual goal. With a consistent message, our voice is stronger.

On the capacity-building side, with a small staff we can’t be everywhere in the state at once. We rely heavily on our partners, such as the host agencies that run our School-Age Care Credential for after-school staff, to help us meet the needs. We could think of these fellow professional development providers as the competition, but instead we work together to our mutual benefit. The same goes for schools and their local community-based organizations. While many schools have been working in partnership for decades, as the state turns further to the community schools model, a great benefit is the many new partnerships being developed across the state to better serve students and families.

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Richard Moylan is president of Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Partnerships with other not-for-profit institutions are critical. They help make possible a range of new public programs. They offer marketing support, an expanded audience, resources, and valuable insight.

The current political environment on the federal level may well be driving up the number of people coming to Green-Wood for an authentic, simple, and profound human experience. People can put down their phones, get off the grid for a while and connect with history, architecture and sculpture and the environment. Our programming reflects that as well. Our public programs have focused on our three core offerings – history, art and nature – and will continue to do so in 2018. Social media and news outlets are flooded with contradictory (and sometimes false) information. It is important for Green-Wood to provide thoughtful programming that is insightful and engaging.

Soliciting individual donations in an uncertain political and financial climate will be a challenge in 2018. Also, the field for diminished federal funding of arts, cultural, and environmental concerns will be much more competitive.

Moylan discuss art initiatives on an NYN Media Insights podcast.

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Roderick Jones is the executive director of Goddard Riverside Community Center in New York City.

In the past year we have learned that the business management portion of not-for-profit corporations is critically important and cannot be a secondary consideration to pure benevolence or running good programs. Unfortunately, there is a convergence of external forces that are creating extreme pressure on not-for-profit institutions and ultimately threaten their long-term health. The other key learning is, there is an ever-increasing move in philanthropy to focus on scaled or scalable change and impact. Moreover, there is a need to focus on both the individual case/person being impacted and the broader causes that create or proliferate the challenges that make programs necessary.

The biggest challenge facing us in 2018 is that 70 percent of the agency budget is from one or more levels of government. Ultimately, major shifts outside of our control will present issues.

A predecessor talks leadership in an NYN Media Insights podcast.

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Kimberly George is the executive director of Rebuilding Together NYC.

Nonprofits compete for space in the same real estate market as for-profit companies, and the cost of operating in an expensive city is already high. Rebuilding Together NYC continues to grow and while we built a new space for our offices, classroom, and warehouse earlier this year, we have already reached capacity. Raising funds to spend on rent, facilities, and infrastructure is a high priority.

This problem is not limited to us either. A recent report found that many city-based nonprofits responsible for providing essential services are underfunded and struggle to afford indirect expenses, including for staff training, strategic planning and other critical operations. City, state and federal agencies must do a better job of accounting for indirect cost rates when contracting jobs.

Hear George on a NYN Media Insights podcast on disaster recovery.

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Sharon Stapel is the executive director of the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York.

Nonprofits were at the center of many policy and societal debates in 2017, whether we were the front page story or not. This year, nonprofits saw policy changes that deeply impact our communities, budget cuts, threats to nonprofit nonpartisanship, threats to our ability to raise charitable donations, and reports and analysis that the sector is not doing enough to close the racial leadership gap. In 2018, in addition to critical policy issues like the Census 2020, DACA, and net neutrality, nonprofits will have to focus on advocacy for our budgets, our missions, and our identity, and will have to invest in equitable practices that bring the diversity of thought, strategy, and leadership necessary to achieve our advocacy goals.

In 2017 we began a series of trainings to support nonprofit staff. In 2018 we should expect more cruel and disruptive policies around immigration, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity, and increased attention to white supremacy, violence, and sexual harassment, and our people will feel the effects, directly and vicariously. We need to care for staff by providing equitable, non-oppressive work environments, and resources for staff on the front lines.

Stapel talks nonprofit salaries in an NYN Media Insights podcast.

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Rhonda Frederick is president of People Inc. in Western New York.

People Inc. serves more than 12,500 people across nine counties in Western New York and Rochester. A challenge that our agency faces in both markets is difficulty attracting quality candidates. Currently employing nearly 4,000 people, we seek candidates with strong interpersonal skills, compassion and solid judgement which allow us to empower individuals with developmental disabilities, special needs and seniors to get the most out of life. One important factor that plays into our hiring challenge is the current rate of pay for direct support professionals (DSPs), as mandated by the state.

In 2017, People Inc. adopted Lean business practices, which are used around the world to maximize customer value, while minimizing waste and using fewer resources. Lean applies in every business and process, and has become widely used in government, healthcare, and human services. It is not a tactic or cost reduction program, it is a way of thinking and acting for an organization.

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Peter Provet is president of Odyssey House in New York City.

Drug abuse is an equal opportunity destroyer. We cannot let the stigma of addiction continue to stand in the way of combating a public health crisis. The escalation of opioid-related deaths in New York is no different from what is happening in communities across America that are also reeling from this tragic epidemic. The death rate now totals more than 60,000 a year and is predicted to climb even higher in 2018. Wherever people are misusing opioids, synthetic or heroin, the results are the same: preventable, premature deaths.

Now is the time for the country to come together, demand the federal government officially declare the opioid epidemic a “national emergency”, and give states the resources they need to address it on the local level, so 2018 is the year we turn the tide on this epidemic.

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Sean Granahan is the president of The Floating Hospital in New York City.

The devil is in the details. Those in charge of Congress are realizing, through happenstance, that they may actually be able to pass legislation. After Congress passes tax reform, a flood of other legislation may tumble out of the washer. For the past 16 years, the US has enjoyed a relative stability in Congress’ priorities. President Trump is ushering in new focuses, new priorities, and new direction - regardless of your political views.

The effects of these new pieces of legislation will be profound, and even if they fail to pass, selective non-enforcement of existing regulations will likewise radically change the landscape for many industries. Reading the fine print on all new regulations and legislation will be key in keeping ahead of the new landscape.

Granahan discusses health care in an NYN Media Insights podcast.

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Monique “Mo” George is the executive director of Picture The Homeless in New York City.

Change is not necessarily a bad thing, and the way that members and staff of Picture the Homeless embraced change meant that we were able to achieve a lot. The other big lesson is learning the value of always being strategic, especially when we're fighting for progressive legislation like the Housing Not Warehousing Act and the Right to Know Act. We learned when to apply pressure and when to apply praise, through social media actions like our Twitter rallies, as well as conventional protests and other direct actions.

I've watched organizations hammer away at their legislative targets and never know how to use praise in a way that's strategic and doesn't compromise you and gets things done. As a new executive director, it's been great to be able to assess our achievements and acknowledge that we've done amazing work over the past seventeen years, and it's okay to take a minute to develop a strategic plan for how to move forward.

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Jennifer Tan is the founder of the Shine Foundation in New York City.

What I have learned through my varied experiences is that nonprofits have to know clearly what they want and need, and when to walk away from a funding opportunity that simply does not fit. This year, Shine had to make the difficult decision to walk away from a few funding opportunities that would have potentially led to mission creep or compromised our values. Through each decision, however difficult, our organization became stronger and clearer in what we stood for.

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