What are the keys to making social service nonprofit organizations truly functional and successful in accomplishing their mission? That was the question posed and addressed at the Alexandria Nonprofit Excellence Forum Oct. 5.
More than 140 attendees from more than 40 nonprofit organizations as well as representatives from City agencies, the Chamber of Commerce and some for profit businesses attended the second annual forum sponsored by the Alexandria Community Trust (ACT) at the First Baptist Church, 2832 King St.
"This was almost double our attendance last year," said Jonelle Wallmeyer, executive director, ACT.
Kicking off the three hour session as keynote speaker was Mario Morino, chairman, Venture Philanthropy Partners and the Morino Institute, who urged attendees to increase leadership professionalism in their nonprofit organizations if they hoped to achieve lasting success. "I tried to underscore the importance of building strong, high-performing nonprofits, what that means, and what it takes to do so," Morino explained after his presentation.
Titled "Raising the Bar for Operational Effectiveness and Excellence," Morino acknowledged that his presentation and advice is "so different than what most in the field expect." Most of the organizations represented at the forum were volunteer driven and, in many cases, lacking professional association management.
Different from the majority of trade associations and professional societies nationally, nonprofits organizations aided by ACT function under the 501 C3 paragraphs of the Internal Revenue Code. Most of their counterparts in the trade and professional society arena are organized as 501 C6 organizations geared to promoting, protecting, and advancing the interests of their members.
<b>THE LATTER ARE</b> usually managed by either in-house professional association executives and staffs or association management firms with staffs experienced in particular specialties. In each instance there is a price tag usually beyond the financial capabilities of community service organizations.
"Most of those in attendance represented deliverers of social services in Alexandria and were searching for guidance in expanding their capacity to fulfill their mission. I thought the forum accomplished that goal very well," said Debra Collins, director, Alexandria Department of Human Services.
"The subject of effectiveness in the nonprofit sector is remarkably important but too often lacks the candor and honest introspection to drive real change. When one is serious about seeing meaningful change to be more effective, one quickly realizes for many nonprofits that this will be a transformational, not an incremental undertaking," Morino said.
"In reality, you cannot take an incremental approach to becoming a high-performing nonprofit. Instead, it requires a truly transformational approach characterized by four elements:
* new and different thinking about what is possible for the organization;
* a rigorous and disciplined decision-making approach that is information-based;
* an outcome-orientation that focuses on and tracks how well the organization is able to achieve its goals; and
* making sure that you have the right people in the senior management team and board," he said.
<b>WITH A CAREER </b>spanning more than 30 years as a business leader, social entrepreneur, and authority on information technology, Morino co-founded Venture Philanthropy Partners as an innovative investor in social change. It concentrates investments of money, expertise, and contacts to improve lives and boost opportunities for children of low-income families in the National Capital Region.
"At our organization we have a vision that sees a core of high-performing nonprofit institutions operating with compelling levels of leadership in an environment fully supportive of giving all children in the region the opportunity to grow into adults leading healthy, productive lives to carry on the American dream for themselves, their families, and their children," Morino emphasized to the audience.
"The real answer to being effective lies not with ‘systems’ and ‘best practices,’ but rather by doing all we can to ensure we have top talent with the requisite skills and experience to lead and manage the organization," he said. Since 2000, VPP has invested over $28 million in nonprofit social service organizations throughout the region.
<b>FOLLOWING HIS KEYNOTE ADDRESS,</b> attendees were offered two break-out sessions. These focused on: 1. Outputs and Outcomes: Effectively Measuring Your Impact; and 2. Taking Ownership: Being an Empowered Board Leader. The first was geared to nonprofit staff and managers
while the second was designed for organization board of director members. These were followed by a networking lunch that concentrated on ACT's Capacity Building Investment Program.
As a community foundation, ACT "seeks to raise the level and effectiveness of giving in Alexandria by increasing the awareness of the importance of strategic philanthropy," according to Wallmeyer.
ACT's Community Fund encompasses three investment visions: 1. Programs that will deliver measurable long-term social and economic returns on issues impacting children, youth and families; 2. Programs utilizing and effectively implementing best practice models; and 3. Efficient and effective organizations.
In order to accomplish these visions, ACT's investment strategy focuses on three distinct ways to make a long-term difference in the City. They are Community Collaborative Grants, Capacity Building Grants, and ACT Initiative Grants. Additional information about ACT can be found at www.actforalexandria.org.