For #GivingTuesdayNow: Don’t Forget Small Nonprofits
I spent one of my days last week trying to save a small homeless shelter. It was the most fulfilling, meaningful day of my career — even if we fail.
It is days like this that I realize why I quit my job to pursue my dream of working to help small nonprofits — not the big ones that get the attention, the philanthropy and the press, but the ones that work day in and day out to save people’s lives. Not that big nonprofits don’t do that; they do. But the smaller ones are struggling now, and they are being left out.
The Dwelling Place of New York is not a fancy place. It is located in the last building on a street in Manhattan. One step west and you are in the mouth of the Lincoln Tunnel. Its surrounding neighborhood is gritty and desolate, and its streets are filled with people in need. But once you walk into the building, you are inspired. The residence is run by an elderly sister who has more energy, love and respect in her small body than anybody I have met. Supported by a dedicated staff, she runs the place — intake, payroll, fundraising, bill paying, spiritual guidance — and is the face of the Dwelling Place. Along with Sister Nancy, who was a founding member of the Dwelling Place in 1977 and has lived there ever since, they are the last hope for a small group of women lucky enough to find their doorstep.
At any given time, 15 women call The Dwelling Place home. Each woman gets personalized care, support and guidance to help her build a sustainable, self-supported life. The staff offers a range of services to fulfill each woman’s individual needs while nurturing her unique talents. Every woman who enters The Dwelling Place gets:
- Physical and mental health assessments
- A safe place to call her own, including a bed, nightstand and closet
- Daily breakfast, takeout lunch, dinner and an evening snack
- Individual guidance offered by an assigned case manager
- Visits twice a month from the Project Renewal Outreach Team for psychiatric and medical evaluations and medications
- Referrals for professional counseling and day treatment programs
- Money management assistance
In addition, The Dwelling Place has become a refuge for the homeless population in the area by serving a weekly community dinner to former residents now placed in permanent housing, elderly neighbors living on fixed income and women who are living on the streets.
Now it may need to shut its doors. We can’t let that happen. While they are down to only four residents, unable to take in more due to the dreaded virus, it still serves a vital need. Community dinners, while once filled with lively conversation often including a sharing of life experiences that encourage and support women in different phases of their journeys, are now provided as takeout only. The connection is lost, but the mission still serves.
The Paycheck Protection Program has failed them. They received nothing from the first round due to the fact that the application could not be processed timely by its bank, and the first round of money went to large banking clients. Foundation grant denied. Why? Not big enough. Large foundational grants are for some reason focusing on those organizations with bigger budgets. Where is the help for the small organizations? Why are the grant requirements and process so onerous and restrictive? Who is going to help these entities? How do we keep the doors open?
The Dwelling Place of New York receives no operating assistance. All of its revenues are generated by fundraising. Its biggest fundraiser is a beautiful fall gala where former residents come and tell their inspirational stories. Cancelled. A wonderful summer outing at the Yankee Game also brought in significant funds. No baseball this year. Half Marathon, cancelled. Church visits, cancelled. On-site events, cancelled. Corporate matching gifts, none so far. Half of their budgeted income is gone. How will they survive?
Well, they are only serving four women (they have beds for 14), so why does it matter? It matters because that means four less women on the streets. Nine fewer women are unemployed because they still have their jobs at The Dwelling Place. Every one of them matters. Over the course of their existence, they have served and saved hundreds of women. That cannot be lost. The Dwelling Place is not alone. There are thousands of similar entities in New York City, and all over the world, that provide vital services on very small budgets. Regardless of their size and the number of people they serve, they are vital. We cannot overlook them. So what can we do?
- First, banks should prioritize the second round of PPP loans to these entities — the ones that have no other options. Round one went to large corporate clients. That cannot happen again. Give it to the entities that truly need it just to keep their doors open. Smaller community banks performed much better than the big banks in the first round. These banks can continue to be the lifeline to struggling entities by reaching out to the organizations in their areas to proactively offer assistance. Guide them through the process, and let them know that you can help them. Both the banks and the nonprofits will benefit in the long run.
- Foundations must set aside a portion of their grants for these entities — regardless of their credit, bank statements, audited financials. Just go and spend some time there or pick up the phone and hear their stories. You will see their worth.
- State and local governments must expedite payments to these struggling nonprofits to ensure they have the cash flow needed to maintain operations. Cut the bureaucracy, and keep the money flowing.
- Large nonprofits — share the wealth. Think about strategic partnerships and collaborations. Take a struggling nonprofit under your wing during this terrible time and help them continue their missions. Share resources, space, staff, expertise as much as possible to keep them afloat. Yes, you have your own population to serve, but try to come up with innovative ways to help those entities with even less.
- Board members serving on nonprofit boards need to step in and step up. Not just financially, share your expertise. Small nonprofits have no funds for consultants and outside expertise to guide them through this crisis. If you are on a board of a nonprofit and have not offered your expertise, whether its financial expertise, legal, marketing skills, technology — reach out and get engaged. It’s the reason you were put on the board.
I am hopeful that The Dwelling Place and the others like it will survive. Application for the second round of PPP grants is in, and grant applications have submitted to some local foundations. Board members are engaged and trying to come up with alternative fundraising events. For now, four women still have a place to call home. And for all of us serving this industry, that should be all that matters.
Kim Vaccari is president of NFP Advisors LLC, a consultant firm dedicated to advising nonprofit organizations and served as CFO at one of the largest nonprofits in New York City.