Over the next few weeks, we will be featuring reflections on the 2019 Summer Conference. If you would like to share your experience, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our third #NCLGBA19 Conference Recap comes from Lauren Stepp, 2019 Summer Conference Scholarship Recipient, Western Carolina University Master of Public Affairs Candidate, and Communications and Development Coordinator, Evergreen Community Charter School.
Seeking First to Understand: Bridging the Gap Between Government and Nonprofit Personnel
I didn’t sleep much the night before my five-hour trek from North Carolina’s mountains to its coast. I developed a passion for budgeting early in my graduate program at Western Carolina University, seeing it as a mechanism for encouraging civic engagement and racial equity. But not three weeks prior to the NCLGBA Summer Conference in Wilmington, I was offered an opportunity to serve Evergreen Community Charter School as their Communications and Development Coordinator. I took the job. And I love it. Regardless, my chief concern in attending the conference was that fellow attendees wouldn’t understand my perspective. After all, the situation sounds like a hackneyed joke: nearly 150 government budgeting professionals and a singular nonprofit fundraiser walk into a riverfront hotel…
I was wrong. The conference afforded thoughtful, productive conversation. Fellow conferencegoers were intrigued by my attendance and genuinely interested in my path to Evergreen. Better yet, it afforded a chance to discuss the financial implications of charter schools as well as opportunities for public-nonprofit collaboration. Whether obvious or not, collaborative governance underscored many of the conference sessions. Rebecca Jackson’s Creating a High Performance Culture – Engaged Employees Transforming Communities alluded to enacting collaborative agreements with community organizations in pursuit of innovation. Jackson’s four qualities of high-performing organizations can also be applied to nonprofits. Arguably, nonprofits should also be mission driven, use data to drive decisions, listen to customers, and engage employees. As Director of Fayetteville’s Office of Strategic Performance Analytics, Jackson advised practitioners to avoid a hero-based approach to strategic planning, to start small, and (my personal favorite) to ensure your staff can bell the cat. More plainly, are your strategies feasible? Conversations about strategic planning are important, especially considering just 52 percent of the audience agreed their organization was high-performing and 10 percent strongly disagreed. To attain innovation and bring more legitimacy to the causes we care about, government and nonprofit professionals must band together. We are stronger together and, as Rick Morse argued in Lead From Where You Are by Encouraging the Heart, we are stronger when we challenge the status quo.
Christopher Williams and Brandon Juhaish’s session, Funding Non-Profits: Mecklenburg County’s Process for Selecting and Managing its Community Service Grant’s Program, echoed these sentiments. Mecklenburg County modified their CSG Program in light of 12 recommendations from MPA students at UNC Charlotte. Chiefly, the sunset provision opens funding opportunities to new programs while providing others the opportunity to become established vendors. In fact, more than 70 percent of 2020 grantees are new. Though Williams and Juhaish discussed challenges of providing community funding, particularly those associated with processing applications, the benefits are overwhelming. In providing funding, Mecklenburg County supports critical needs in areas that might not otherwise receive financial assistance. In collaborating, the County better provides for its citizens and, arguably, creates a more equitable home.
Regardless, research continues to suggest a schism between government and nonprofit personnel. I won’t illustrate the alleged disagreements here, but perhaps it goes without saying—we all deserve to be recognized, appreciated, and understood more regardless of sector. One tenet at Evergreen is to seek first to understand, then to be understood. I would like to think my attendance—a nonprofit fundraiser amid a sea of budgeting professionals—was a step in that direction.