As 2009 started, Charles Dickens’ words echoed: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
I had started what became JVA Consulting in 1987 when my oldest daughter had been born, and in 2009 my youngest daughter was turning 18 and would leave for college in the fall. We had grown from me as an independent consultant with daughters in my lap in a home office to the largest consulting and research firm in the intermountain West focused on community and social change. We, and our clients, had survived earlier recessions and the post-911 climate.
With the economy in turmoil and affecting all sectors, and cuts in all typical categories of revenue sources—government, foundation, corporate and individual donors—the challenges that our clients would face seemed somewhat insurmountable. What would 2009 be like?
Our New Year’s resolution was simple: Help JVA Consulting clients survive and thrive—not just maintain, but come out stronger.
Our guiding questions were: How can we all do things better? What will make the most difference right now?
And so, in the midst of what seems like the ongoing onslaught of dismal news in the nonprofit sector as we start 2010, we want to share some of what happened and what we learned, that we have been privileged to be a part of.
1. Nonprofits looked at relevance and how they could be more effective. We worked with many groups as they examined their core strategies. A favorite was facilitating the discussions of the Colorado Food Bank Association and the Colorado Anti-hunger Network as they explored a restructuring, with a focus on a BIG mission: We are going to end hunger in Colorado! The resulting Colorado Coalition to End Hunger launched in October, joining the governor and others with a campaign to end childhood hunger in Colorado.
2. Really understanding community needs became important.
We saw in our community needs assessment work with organizations like Urban Peak, Adams County, Susan G. Komen for the Cure and others a desire to understand on a deep level what their constituents were experiencing, and how they could adapt, strengthen and/or expand their programs to better meet needs, especially in underserved communities. In a time of potentially limited dollars, understanding where best to invest resources became paramount.
3. Successful organizations invested in their staff, and in their grantees.
JVA facilitated more training workshops and provided capacity building services to more organizations and people than ever before.
- Over 1,300 attended our open-to-the-public workshops.
- Sixty-four emerging leaders and people transitioning to the nonprofit sector participated in Executive Director Academy or in Development Director Intensive, JVA’s intensive programs to prepare people for executive director and development positions.
- Numerous organizations asked us to come in and train their staffs and boards, and we worked with the Center for Multicultural Excellence at the University of Denver and other organizations on developing strengths-based leadership.
- The Gill Foundation continued its capacity building support of its grantees (see prior blog about Lambda Center).
- National organizations like ACE Mentor and the National Fatherhood Initiative asked JVA to provide training to build the capacity of their affiliate organizations, and of their grantees, strengthening them to better face the challenges to today’s economy and find the opportunities within.
4. Build on assets and strengths instead of merely looking to address needs or overcome problems.
We were thrilled this year to work with organizations that made deliberate decisions to focus on the assets in their communities and on asset-based initiatives. Three favorites included:
- The Center for Working Families in Atlanta has a big idea: Develop community-based social enterprises that will employ people in the community restoring and renovating houses that they then can live in, and help other nonprofits working in this community surrounding Turner Field to develop social enterprises to become the supply chain. Can it work? Anyone, including me, who has met CEO David Jackson would say a resounding yes!
- Closer to home (within one mile from our offices), JVA gave a CCI grant to Extreme Community Makeover, an effort that involves community residents in renovating and repairing neighborhood homes. Director Angela Bomgaars explained how she used the money to adopt an asset-based approach in this Nonprofit Street blog.
- Lastly, JVA continued to partner with others and to carry on our own work around this big idea: That the baby boomer generation as they become older can be a silver mine, not a silver tsunami. Rose Community Foundation continued its leadership in this area with Boomers Leading Change; JVA worked with the foundation this year on developing a business plan for Boomers Leading Change in Health, a project that will be funded by Rose, Atlantic Philanthropies and some other local funders. JVA also worked with the Governor’s Commission on Community Service to develop guidelines for its work with those age 55+, and worked with Denver’s Age Matters Initiative to create a report summarizing the work its task force has done in this area to make the city of Denver, as Mayor John Hickenlooper says, “the best city to live and grow old in.” In our own capacity building initiative, JVA awarded $200,000 in grants and provided over 2,100 hours of direct individual consulting to help prepare nonprofit organizations in Colorado to deploy the talents and experience of the boomer generation in their communities.
5. Boldness does have power, genius and magic to it.
In the midst of this “storm,” many of our government, foundation and nonprofit clients took bold steps to help those around them. Two clients whose actions took my breath away were these:
- The Jefferson Center for Mental Health, who in the midst of government cutbacks took on a bold goal: No one would be turned away. And they did it!
- The Second Wind Fund, who when many organizations were retrenching, took on the ambitious goal of expanding across the state, and the nation, to decrease teen suicide.
As I look back, I realize what an amazing year it’s been. On a personal note, our youngest safely navigated the passage to college, at the University of Puget Sound, and my husband and I are figuring out the empty nest thing.
At JVA, the trepidation that we had going into 2009 dissipated, as we continued to realize how we could use our talents to help those focused on community and social change create the futures they envisioned. Our amazing staff again and again stepped up to the plate, to come up with new ideas and innovative solutions to our rapidly changing environment.
What we know for sure is this, as Eleanor Roosevelt said: The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.
Your dreams are what will make a difference in our community and in our world as we move into this new year and decade.
All the best,
 Look for our longer annual report later.
 Quoting Goethe or Murray