Getting Stronger, Together

Filed Under: Strengthening Pierce County - Posted @ 6:09pm

PHOTO: Jenny Ostenson

In 2017, Greater Tacoma Community Foundation awarded $500,000 in single and multi-year grants to 39 nonprofit organizations through its Strengthening Pierce County program, which provides general operating support funds. These flexible funds are designed to bolster smaller nonprofits who are addressing critical issues to sustain and build a stronger Pierce County.

Greater Tacoma Community Foundation’s goal is to support organizations with clear mission and programmatic alignment, who learn from their constituents, participate in field building activities, and assess their impact.

By exploring connections with other organizations in the region, the entire community gets stronger.

Through conversations with this year’s Strengthening Pierce County grantees, we discovered themes among local nonprofits. In this, the last of three posts about themes from Strengthening Pierce County grantees, we explore overarching trends that emerged from all the grantees.

General Operating Funds Make a Difference

For many nonprofit organizations, 80-90% of funding they receive is restricted to specific programs or activities. General operating funds are unrestricted, which gives organizations flexibility to pay for activities that strengthen their organization like executive management, fundraising, and operations. Investing in those foundational aspects means a stronger base for mission-driven programs.

Pierce County is Changing

As the population in Pierce County grows, nonprofit organizations see the impact in different ways. For some, the impact is negative: more youth homelessness, more human trafficking, greater need. For others, it means more volunteers or a broader donor base. Above all, shifting demographics are pushing nonprofits to adapt programs, services, and operations to keep up with the new opportunities and challenges.

Real Estate Prices Affect Nonprofits

Operational Space is at a premium for organizations, especially those in downtown Tacoma. With rising real estate prices, some organizations are finding it hard to afford current space or locate new offices. Some nonprofits are choosing to co-locate with other organizations. There are a few organizations, like Samdhana-Karana Yoga and TACID, that have bigger spaces than they need and they are partnering or providing space to other community groups.

Transportation Also Affects Nonprofits

Factors like optimal site locations for providing service and staying accessible to clients has led some organizations to explore alternatives for delivery of services. This is relevant across Pierce County because it so big geographically. However, even organizations with a downtown Tacoma location are running into challenges serving people who have limited transportation options.

Many organizations like Oasis Youth Center, Alchemy, and Families Unlimited, have a central hub location, but are also investing in bringing their programs to other locations like school-based programs and mobile food vans.

Board Development Needed All Across the Board

Nearly every organization is interested in Board Development: recruiting a diversity of members representing Pierce County population makeup, making strategic decisions for future growth, and getting support for fundraising.  Several organizations are working in particular to ensure increased representation of women and people of color. This means building relationships outside of their traditional circles of support. It’s a big investment for an Executive Director to focus on board development, and it often falls off the list of top priorities.

Leadership Matters

A spirit of inquiry, boldness, and humility were consistent qualities among leaders of strong, growing nonprofits. At the same time, organizations need different types of leaders at different points in their life cycle. As nonprofits grow, their leadership will need to grow with them.

Overall, Executive Directors show a dedication and investment in the local community, above and beyond their organizational mission. Many leaders have been working in the community for years, often at other nonprofits, and they bring a high degree of commitment to the health and wellbeing of the city.

Learning from One Another

Greater Tacoma Community Foundation conducts follow-up visits and conversations with all grantees to better understand what it takes for an organization to succeed in this community, what resources are needed to achieve positive change, and what connections could make a positive difference. In conversation with a GTCF program officer, grantees get feedback about their case for support and grant writing, especially the case for general operating support.

By exploring connections with other organizations in the region, for example other nonprofits who are doing similar program work or that share similar organizational development or management issues, the entire community gets stronger. This is part of GTCF’s commitment to peer learning and continuous improvement.

The Final Round of Strengthening Pierce County Grants is Now Open for Applications –
Deadline Friday, January 19, 2018 4:00 PM 

Greater Tacoma Community Foundation is dedicated to capacity-building, fostering peer learning among nonprofit organizations, and sharing best practices for a stronger Pierce County.