December 09, 2016
As the executive director of The Blue Card, a national nonprofit that assists Holocaust survivors, I have seen nonprofits having to adapt to the consequences of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, a rapidly accelerating digital revolution, and a renewed emphasis on corporate social responsibility, all of which have forced them — and us — to rethink how we communicate and execute on our missions.
Through this period of change, we've managed to grow our operating budget by 40 percent and expanded our outreach from nineteen to thirty-two states, even as our full-time headcount has remained in the single digits. At the same time, my colleagues and I have seen the needs of survivors we support increase, as they struggle with health issues and ever-rising healthcare costs. For many of them, the difficulty of navigating the public health system and the stresses they face as a result of financial pressures are exacerbated by the psychological and emotional scars they bear. That's why finding a way to provide outreach services to our constituents has been as important as helping them with financial support.
Indeed, if we learned anything from the economic downturn of 2008-09, it's that it is just as important to diversify one's operational strategy as it is one's fundraising strategy. By forging partnerships and taking advantage of synergies with a variety of public- and private-sector agencies, we've been able to increase our programmatic offerings while keeping our operational structure lean and nimble.
And along the way, we've learned a few things about how collaboration and partnerships can be used to help extend an organization's reach:
Don't be afraid. While charitable giving rose smartly in 2015, so did the number of registered nonprofits. Which means the competition for dollars and support from foundations, associations, corporations, and individual donors is as great as ever.
It's important to remember, however, that nonprofits focused on the same problem or cause invariably share the same goal. And that collaborating with an organization or organizations with a mission and goals that align with yours doesn't mean the support you receive has to suffer. On the contrary, you just may find that funders are willing to increase their support if they know the extra dollars won't be used to underwrite duplicative services or programs.
In 2013, for example, The Blue Card began working with the Association of Jewish Family & Children's Services (AJFCA), a membership network of Jewish family service agencies across the United States and Canada. Through AJFCA, we were able to cultivate relationships with social workers and agencies around the country that often are the first point of contact for the elderly, and today we receive referrals from more than seventy agencies in the AJFCA network.
In addition, we've identified organizations in other countries that do similar work and have formed relationships with many of them, making it possible for those agencies to refer donors to us who wish to help Holocaust survivors living in America.