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Nonprofit Career Academy targets new talent to industry

Drew Lewis Foundation launches program through NAP grant

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A Springfield nonprofit started a program last month that has the aim to prepare people for careers in the not-for-profit sector.

Sept. 1 was the start for the Nonprofit Career Academy, created by the Drew Lewis Foundation Inc. Mindy Maddux, assistant director of the academy, is tasked with leading the 12-person cohort through the curriculum for the 16-week program.

“With any new project, you have to run a pilot first,” said Maddux, who started in the newly created full-time position in December 2021 after previously working part time for the Drew Lewis Foundation. “We call this our beta class.”

Three cohorts are planned annually for the program, which Maddux said also can prepare people for work in the for-profit sector.

“The focus is on nonprofit,” she said. “Anything they learn, the transferable skills are there to help people with any career path they take.”

Classes are free for participants in the first two cohorts of the program, which typically meets Thursdays inside The Fairbanks, 1126 N. Broadway Ave. That evening is also when the Drew Lewis Foundation serves its weekly community dinners to residents of the Grant Beach neighborhood and provides free day care to visitors, including cohort members, Maddux said.

“We’ll move to charging a fee at a later date,” she said of future cohorts.

Program curriculum includes:

  • board development and governance;
  • program management and coordination;
  • fundraising and development;
  • community mapping and building;
  • reasoning;
  • professional writing and public speaking;
  • financial literacy; and
  • importance of grants and other funding sources.

Maddux said the nonprofit received funding in December 2021 to help launch the program. Amy Blansit, Drew Lewis Foundation CEO, said via email the academy is funded, in part, by a three-year grant through the state Neighborhood Assistance Program. The program can help fund projects in the categories of job training, education, crime prevention, community services and physical revitalization, according to the Missouri Department of Economic Development website.

Blansit said the competitive grant funds can be sought beyond the three years as well as for additional programs the nonprofit may seek to pursue. The grant covers a portion of staff and rent expenditures, while the Drew Lewis Foundation is paying for 25% of staffing, as well as office expenses, marketing, technology and administrative costs. Blansit said the grant is $500,100 over the three years, adding the nonprofit is raising roughly $249,000 in NAP credits to help fund the program. She said donors can claim 50% of their donation as tax credits under NAP. The foundation is about $100,000 short of its fundraising goal, she added.

The Drew Lewis Foundation also has partnered with Ozarks Technical Community College on the program, as those who complete the academy will receive six credit hours of business department courses, said Joan Barrett, the college’s vice chancellor of student affairs. Barrett also is a board member for the nonprofit and serves on the academy’s advisory panel.

“We’re such likely partners geographically, and we all thought it was time to shore up a little bit and create more overt pathways to higher education if someone was so inclined,” Barrett said, noting OTC’s proximity to the Grant Beach neighborhood. “It’s to build on a certificate or an associate degree but it’s not required.”

Maddux said service learning in business, customer service and professional readiness are the three OTC course titles for which academy graduates receive credit.

While Maddux credits the Greater Ozarks Leadership Education and Development program, dubbed GO LEAD, at Missouri State University as a good workshop series with topics such as writing grants or starting a nonprofit, she said the new academy is serving a community need.

“There was a void in how to work for a nonprofit,” she said, adding people with incomes less than 200% of the federal poverty line could benefit from those soft skill trainings necessary to go and work in a professional setting.

The poverty guideline at 200% in Missouri is $27,180 for a single-person household and $55,500 for a family of four, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Senior Services.

Maddux said anyone can participate in the academy. While the grant was written to serve those who live under 200% of the federal poverty line, the program doesn’t exclude those who make more money.

There’s a significant need for more workers in nonprofits, according to the 2022 State of the Nonprofit Sector report from FORVIS LLP. Roughly 71% of respondents say staffing shortages have hampered their ability to deliver programs and services. Over 41% report their organization is experiencing a shortage that equates to between 6% and 15% of positions.

Maddux said the program’s target audience is “folks who are working minimum wage, who maybe have been helped by a nonprofit and have a desire to give back, yet don’t feel they’re qualified to work in a nonprofit.” She added new employees who are just starting in the nonprofit sector also would be a welcome addition to future cohorts.

The first cohort is scheduled to conclude Dec. 22 with a second one planned close behind in January.

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