The View from A Volunteer Veteran
Musings on the strengths and struggles of our nonprofit community
Ronnie Slone is founder and president of The Slone Group, a consulting firm offering organizational development and training in the Greater New Orleans area. Slone has over 35 years of operations management, human resources, training and professional staffing experience with Fortune 500 companies and small businesses. Ronnie@TheSloneGroup.com.
I am no stranger to the nonprofit world.
In fact, I have worked in a wide array of capacities, including actively participating on numerous boards, facilitating board retreats and staff professional development, and even creating my own nonprofit. As a community volunteer, I have served the Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, Jefferson Community Foundation, GNO, Inc., New Orleans City Park, CASA Jefferson, The Center for Literacy and Learning, River Region Chamber of Commerce, United Way of Southeast Louisiana, Louisiana Board of Commerce and Industry, Trinity Community Center in Hollygrove and several others.
Between my passion for nonprofits and my work as a consultant on organizational development and training, I’d like to share some of my thoughts about this critical part of our community.
First, thank you for what you do.
Nonprofit organizations are crucial because they are often the last resort for people in need. So many provide essential services to those who cannot afford them and help fill a social void. They are able to do this important work thanks to financial support from donations, grants and corporate sponsorships as well as countless hours of support from volunteers who fill so many different roles. In a world where we tend to spend so much time and energy focused on our own situations, nonprofits allow each of us to be a part of something outside of ourselves. Our unique and individual diversity can come together to positively impact the equity needed to help those who are different from us pursue lives that are full and healthy.
Second, I see your challenges, and they are many.
Many nonprofits are challenged with delivering desperately needed services to their target audiences, who have a variety of needs. Are there too many nonprofits pulling from the same sources of support? The number of nonprofits has grown exponentially post-Hurricane Katrina. Does that mean Greater New Orleans now has too many? I think the only real way to know would be to develop an asset map of all of our nonprofits, broken down into categories, in an effort to evaluate their success. Should there be some consolidations? Should there be a bit more collaboration? Should the larger nonprofits be the structured back-office/conveners to the smaller ones? Maybe.
Third, one need is really standing out right now and would benefit from us all coming together.
If we don’t advocate and fund early childhood education, we will miss an opportunity to positively impact the future of Greater New Orleans and one of its most vulnerable populations. Science has informed us of this valuable timeframe in the development of our children’s lives. We need “all hands on deck” for this one. Sure, everyone/every entity plays a role; however, nonprofits are uniquely positioned to help guide this effort. Equity is about making sure everyone has what they need to participate and be successful. Early childhood education is an equity issue.
Fourth, no matter the mission of a nonprofit, there are some things they should all have in common.
From the seat of this volunteer every nonprofit should be doing these five things:
Examining the systems that don’t work and dismantling them. It’s not about the people, it’s about the systems that set everything in motion.
Basing any solutions on what is best for all people, not just some.
Seeking the lived experiences of those who haven’t traditionally been at the table. Just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
Using the data, tracking the data and seeking the most impactful ways to plug it in.
Creating SMARTIE© goals (Strategic/Measurable/Ambitious/Realistic/Time-bound/Inclusive/Equitable) grounded in results to effectively assess the impact on minority groups (race, gender, abilities/disabilities, etc.)
Some final thoughts:
Who are we, the public? Years ago, I came across the writings of David Mathews, president and CEO of the Kettering Foundation, and he defined “public” as “a diverse body of people joined together in ever-changing alliances to make choices about how to advance their common well-being.” I like this clear and concise definition. We all need to be an engaged public. Through our nonprofit community, we as citizens working together as the public can enable our governments and other community institutions to do their jobs.
Let’s all celebrate the purpose of our nonprofit organizations. Let’s create lived experiences connected to the advancement of public interest. Together we can create what we desire — an equitable region where everyone can live, be healthy and educated, experience economic prosperity, and raise our families.