My entire professional career has been in the non profit world, and what has always amazed me is the duplication of services by a million different titles and names, yet when you narrow down exactly what these programs are doing in our communities, a lot of them are exactly the same at the root.
Compassion Coalition was set up by our CEO as an innovative, creative, unique, and self sustaining way to serve our communities without having to compete with our areas agencies for the same monies, but rather be a partner to them and aid them in ways that they weren’t funded for, or helping them to stretch their funding dollars. Services such as: mattress giveaways, personal care and cleaning products, furniture donations, and serving our local schools are an every day occurrence . Our programs have been ever evolving and ever growing, but we’ve had to learn to stay in our lane.
The creative names that programs come up with shouldn’t matter, what should matter is that we are solving tough issues within our communities to the best of our abilities; and if one of us can’t solve that issue we should be working collaboratively with our partners to find who can solve that issue and then we can move onto the next without hesitation. It’s my perfect nonprofit world, and I can live in it in my head, but not in real life, right? HA!
I was taught a life lesson years ago by a very wise women who I look up to professionally and as a great friend that will always stick with me. My dear friend Amy once told me: Rachel, I stay in my lane. You stay in your lane. You’re going to be really, really good at things, and other things you’re going to be bad at. There is nothing wrong with admitting that you’re not good at that specific thing, because someone else will be good at that. Just stay in your lane!
How does this carry over for me in the world of non profit program development and community based giving?! We’ve had a few agencies approach us within our own community, and say “we love what you’re doing, we want to duplicate it!”, and we always answer with “WHY?!”. We don’t need duplication of our services, we need collaboration, innovation, and creation to reach more people.
Here’s 3 simple things we take into consideration before implementing programs at Compassion Coalition:
1. Am I thinking outside the box?
Meaning, am I sure that I am not duplicating another program locally with just another funky,attention grabbing title. I want to be sure that we are aiming to aid demographics not being reached, creating new ways of preserving the dignity of those we serve, or partnering with non profits who may not be funded for that specific need. This is how our annual mattress giveaway was birthed. When I was a case manager would go into numerous apartments each month where whole families would be sleeping on the floor with limited blankets due to a variety of reasons. A lot of human service agencies have limited funds available for needs such as this, so Compassion Coalition stepped up 5 years ago to meet that need. In 2017, we gave away 160 mattress sets, 120 of them being tempurpedic brand, and the other 40 from a local NYS made mattress company to human service agencies throughout Herkimer and Oneida Counties, at a FMV of more than $160,000. We work tirelessly to not just give mattresses away to give them, but to truly find desperate need in our communities. It’s easy to give things away, what’s not easy is really finding hard to reach individuals who are living in these desperate circumstances that fall through the cracks. We take the time to meet and communicate with area non profits working directly in the homes, and always asking if there are needs in our communities NOT being met.
2. Am I working at meeting an actual need, or just deciding what I feel our community needs?
We can always “assume” what our local schools need, what our communities agencies need, but communication on what is actually needed is the key component. Our greatest programs at Compassion Coalition have developed when we started listening to those working hand in hand to alleviate real needs in our communities that there was limited or no funding for, and we stopped assuming what was needed. We recently launched our Teacher Resource Center: Equipped To Teach at our Compassion Coalition warehouse. This center was opened to allow teachers who are currently teaching in high need schools (70% or higher free or reduced lunch)the ability to CHOOSE the classroom supplies they NEED, not what we think they need. For years we would do large backpack giveaways to our communities during the late summer months, but never ever called the schools to actually ask what was needed, we just assumed that backpacks filled with supplies was the greatest need for our communities. Two years ago we changed our approach, and started to meet with school officials, and learned very quickly how to become more effective by LISTENING rather than assuming what they needed. We were missing a HUGE need by just going through the motions of what felt comfortable for us.
3. Are we willing to evolve and listen?
We can come up with all the programs that we want, but if we are not willing to listen to what is needed in our communities, and change as our communities change then lasting change cannot happen. Our communities needs change yearly, next year we may not need to purchase certain things for our local schools, or certain things for our communities agencies. We can continue to purchase those things wastefully, but if we listen to what agencies are communicating to me through trends that they are seeing, we can continue to allow for community programs to develop and lasting change to move forward.
Our goal as a team always has been and always will be to innovate and create positive change based on actual need, while partnering with agencies within our communities working daily to meet those needs. We as community partners need to continue to collaborate more and need stay in our lanes to continue to bring these positive changes to fruition. Let’s share the sandbox, not throw the sand out of the box.