Answers About United Way and Nonprofits
January 30, 2009, The New York Times — The president and chief executive of United Way of New York City is answering selected readers’ questions.
Following is the third and final set of answers from Gordon J. Campbell, the president and chief executive of United Way of New York City. This week he answered selected readers’ questions on how New York City nonprofits are coping with the recession and how New Yorkers can give back and provide assistance to those in need.
We are no longer accepting questions for this feature.
I volunteer for a nonprofit that assists Medicare beneficiaries with their problems with their H.M.O.’s and prescription drug plans. One of the problems is how can the organization be put on a firmer financial foundation? How can the organization grow?
Nonprofits are so dependent on market forces. Grants always add new duties and force the organization to change and highlight the current favored programs of the granting organization. It perverts the organization.
— Posted by Rebecca
Now, more than ever, it is critical that your organization has a clear vision and strategic plan for the future that focuses on programs, fund-raising, communications and financials. Having such a road map will guide your organization in determining what types of grants and other financing opportunities to pursue. This is important, because all too often nonprofits chase the dollars and, as you point out, inadvertently stray from their core mission, incurring unfinanced mandates and unanticipated expenses.
In addition, the more your organization can do to raise unrestricted dollars, the better. Fortunately, some funders are beginning to understand the need to invest in nonprofits’ capacity and infrastructure, rather than financing yet another “program.”
What is the United Way doing to ensure that our government invests in the basic human services that are the bulwark against humanitarian disaster in a recession? For instance, while United Way may help small nonprofits to feed children, what are you doing to ensure that the major programs like school meals and food stamps are properly financed?
— Posted by Peter
United Way of New York City regularly works with government on a variety of human service issues, and we are always working to strengthen and build the capacity of nonprofit groups that provide services at the neighborhood level.
Our Food Card Access Project is a case in point. Statistics show that up to 700,000 New Yorkers are eligible, but do not participate in the federally financed food stamp (also known as the food card) program. Intended to ensure that low-income people can afford nutritious food, food stamps are a significant tool for helping low-income individuals and families stretch their budgets.
In 2003, United Way joined community partners from the nonprofit, private and government sectors to begin the Food Card Access Project with the goal of improving New York City residents’ access to food stamps. Since the New York City Human Resources Administration is the only agency authorized to enroll individuals for food stamps, our efforts focus on raising awareness of the availability of the food card and preparing individuals for the application process.
FoodChange Inc. (now a part of Food Bank for New York City) had a successful food card outreach model program but lacked the resources and relationships to take it to a larger scale. United Way was able to expand Food Change’s model to seven neighborhoods identified as having the greatest need, where we provide community-based organizations with tools and resources to assist clients with the food stamp enrollment process.
In addition to community outreach, we worked closely with the Human Resources Administration and other community and government stakeholders to reduce the food card application form to 4 pages, from 16 pages — a significant improvement that made gaining access to this vital program much easier for the New Yorkers who need it.
Through the Food Card Access Project, 122,000 individuals have enrolled in food stamps, resulting in at least $232 million in economic activity for the city.
With so many New Yorkers finding themselves newly unemployed, shouldn’t there be a way to harness their talents as volunteers?
— Posted by Kathy
You are absolutely right that those who have lost their jobs as a result of the economic downturn would do well to consider volunteering their time and talents to local nonprofits. As I’ve stated previously, volunteers with professional skills in areas such as accounting, financial management, human resources, strategic planning, fund-raising and technology are especially valuable to nonprofits as they struggle to manage effectively and maintain vital services in the face of shrinking revenues. And, of course, volunteering in one’s own field is also a way to network, which could pave the way to new employment.
United Way of New York City’s MoneyUP has attracted volunteers from finance, banking, accounting and other fields who give of their time to help low-income families become more financially secure. Some provide tax preparation to determine client’s eligibility for the Earned Income Tax Credit. Other MoneyUP volunteers are trained to provide year-round financial coaching to individuals and families to help them increase assets, decrease debt, improve their credit score and achieve their financial goals.
Another route to consider is service as a board member. Our Linkages Board Training and Placement program trains board candidates on the expectations, responsibilities and rewards of trusteeship and then introduces those professionals to nonprofits seeking new board members. Similarly, BoardnetUSA offers a unique Web site that connects nonprofit boards with people interested in board service.