“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does.” – Margaret Mead
The spirit of the American nonprofit is unparalleled. Millions of people from all walks of life selflessly give of their time and resources to nonprofit causes across the country. Nonprofits provide shelter, healthcare, instruction, activity, education, goods, entertainment and resources every minute of every day. The nonprofit sector in central Illinois is no different. Can any of us say that we have not been touched by at least one nonprofit organization in our life? Probably not. Peoria is a thriving community, and nonprofit organizations have a great deal to do with our quality of life.
Margaret Mead so aptly captured the essence of the American nonprofit. A group of “committed citizens” recognize a need in their community and respond. The response is contagious as others join in the effort. It could be as simple as collecting supplies for a group of neighbors or as complex as providing hospice service. But whatever the cause, the mission motivates people to act. However, while passion is critical, a successful nonprofit needs much, much more than just a group of “committed citizens.”
In the past 20 years, nonprofit organizations have changed considerably from “pet” charities of the wealthy to business ventures pursuing a mission. This has not been an easy transformation. For many, the word “business” seems hard and cold—a far cry from admirable, charitable causes. But the reality is simple: if a nonprofit organization cannot raise funds and invest them in pursuit of its mission, then it will eventually die.
Therefore, successful nonprofits are those that adopt sophisticated accounting and fiscal projection practices; utilize aggressive marketing to brand their mission in the community; constantly and creatively fundraise from a variety of sources; rely on professionals with administrative and programmatic skills to ensure quality programs and efficient administration; and create and motivate an active board that leads the organization and develops resources. A successful nonprofit is more than a “small group of committed citizens.” It takes “thoughtful citizens” to change the world. In this day and age, “thoughtful” requires strategy, expertise and administrative and programmatic procedures that effectively fuel the mission of the organization. Nonprofits mean business.
Focus on the Fundamentals
Human resources have been an essential catalyst facilitating the nonprofit revolution across the country. Universities have expanded business and public administration programs to include research and degree opportunities specific to nonprofit organizations. Major cities support trainings and conferences for nonprofit staff as well as consultants specializing in serving nonprofit organizations. Nonprofits reap the benefits of skilled staff and volunteers. Unfortunately, Peoria’s nonprofit professionals have limited opportunities to attend trainings specific to the sector. Most need to travel to Chicago, St. Louis or Indianapolis for conferences or continuing education, which is often cost-prohibitive. That’s why “The Fundamentals of Nonprofit Business” training series was created: to provide quality training right here in central Illinois.
In October 2012, Mark Roberts, CEO of the Community Foundation of Central Illinois; Peoria City Councilman Chuck Weaver, founder of Leaders Change Peoria; and Eileen Ruby Setti, partner in the nonprofit consulting firm Ruby & Associates, joined together to produce “The Fundamentals of Nonprofit Business.” “Fundamentals” is a series designed to develop the administrative, management and leadership skills of nonprofit chief executive officers, board members, volunteers and staff. Our strategy is simple: use local talent to teach proven nonprofit sector practices and allow a wide range of nonprofit professionals the opportunity to learn, discuss and share with each other—at no charge.
“Fundamentals” is designed for any type of nonprofit because training focuses on broad issues relevant to any organization. We do not discuss mission or program, only aspects of nonprofit business. Where every session is different, the series covers topics such as board development, fundraising, planning, legal issues, human resources and marketing, relying on the expertise of local nonprofit leaders who not only share cutting-edge strategies, but provide the unique perspective of central Illinois. Past speakers include: Bill Cirone, president and CEO of Federal Warehouse Company; Chris Monroe, CEO and founder of CPS; Mark Spenny, president and CEO of CEFCU; Eileen Setti, partner at Ruby & Associates; Clete Winklemann, president and CEO of Children’s Home Association of Illinois; John Sahn, of counsel with Kavanagh, Scully, Sudow, White and Frederick; Mark Roberts, CEO of the Community Foundation of Central Illinois; Steven Thompson, CEO of Easter Seals Peoria-Bloomington; and Martha Herm, executive director of The Center for Prevention of Abuse.
The series is offered to participants at no cost because of the gracious support of many businesses and individuals. Bill Cirone of Federal Warehouse Company and Chuck Weaver’s Leaders Change Peoria have underwritten the first four sessions. Other partners include the Peoria Public Library, which provides meeting space at no charge, and First United Methodist Church, which provides free parking for participants. Staff time is donated by the Community Foundation, Leaders Change Peoria and Ruby & Associates.
The most exciting aspect of the “Fundamentals” sessions is gathering such a diverse group of people together to share knowledge and frustrations. More than 180 nonprofit leaders from 86 organizations attended the first three sessions. Their experience ranges from just a few months serving in the sector to more than 25 years. Organizations vary in size from no paid staff to budgets over $50 million. Even with such a broad audience, participants find value in the trainings. Some sample comments:
- I loved the sample annual fund development plan.
- We need to put more thought and effort and time into board recruitment.
- I was able to gain some new and valuable insights into several areas.
- Provided me with an insight to the structural issues of nonprofits. Many of these things I did not know.
Never doubt a group of committed and thoughtful citizens—they can indeed change the world. We’ve seen just that here in our backyard. We are sincerely grateful for every person who works and volunteers for Peoria-area nonprofits. Each and every one of you is making a difference. iBi