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Nonprofits receive spotlight at first-time chamber event

Panelists share challenges and tips for employee engagement in charities

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A newcomer to the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual Outlook series drew a capacity crowd on Oct. 24 to the Barley House at Moon Town Crossing to hear about opportunities, challenges and advice in the nonprofit sector.

Attendance was capped at 225 for the first-time event, said Tiffany Batdorf, the chamber’s vice president of communications and community relations. Officials say a membership survey conducted in 2021 by Habitat Communication and Culture LLC, a consulting and leadership development arm of marketing firm Mostly Serious LLC, indicated a desire for more chamber programming focused on nonprofits. That resulted in the Nonprofit Outlook, Batdorf said.

The event centered on a panel discussion featuring a pair of nonprofit leaders, Laura Farmer with Court Appointed Special Advocates of Southwest Missouri and Brian Fogle with Community Foundation of the Ozarks Inc., as well as Jessieca Hollister-Graham, director of human resources at Digital Monitoring Products Inc.

The nonprofit landscape is a growing one, Fogle said. According to research firm Statista, there were over 1.5 million 501(c)(3) nonprofits in the U.S. in 2021, and over 39,000 of those were in Missouri. Around a decade ago, that total was roughly 1 million, he said. In Springfield, there are almost 3,000 registered nonprofits, per Cause IQ.

Fogle, who joked with the audience he is “a recovering banker,” has served 15 years as president at CFO following a 30-year banking career. As someone with extensive experience in the private and nonprofit sectors, he said it boils down to mission and margin for both. He said it’s expected that a for-profit should have more of an emphasis on margin.

“On the nonprofit side, what I see is people waking up every day to try and make the world better with limited resources,” he said.

Fogle spoke critically of an overhead myth that exists in the nonprofit world. The myth is created when donors believe that nonprofits should keep overhead expenses below a certain percentage of its total expenditures – usually no more than 15% to 20%, according to the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance.

“Several of them still say, ‘I want to look at what that overhead is. I’m not wanting to give to them if their overhead is X or Y,’” he said, noting the issue also involves CFO donors. “To me, that’s the totally wrong question. What are they doing to make the world better? Are they successful, are they efficient? Not their overhead, that’s not what we ought to be doing.

“On the nonprofit side, we probably need to come up with better ways to say, ‘Are we accomplishing what we say we’re going to do?’ What are those metrics? How do we measure success?”

Making connections
For Farmer, CASA’s executive director, she said the organization relies heavily on its partnerships with the business community, noting about 80% of its volunteers work full time. CASA has just over 350 volunteers, up from 100 five years ago, providing advocacy services to about 500 foster children, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.

“For those individuals and those businesses that are really concerned about the bottom line, you want to tell stories that show that financial impact, because that impacts our county, our state budget and really our federal dollars, as well,” she said. “The work that we do is about children. It’s not just about numbers. It’s not just about how many kids we serve. Every child is unique, and every child has a story.”

She said businesses want hands-on experiences, which CASA couldn’t offer at its former headquarters. The organization raised $3.7 million in a capital campaign that helped it purchase and move into a new headquarters earlier this year at the intersection of Glenstone Avenue and Chestnut Expressway, according to past SBJ reporting.

At DMP, Hollister-Graham said the company ownership decided over a decade ago to get its employees more involved in charitable investments, both in time and money. That led to its DMP Cares program.

“It focuses on signature charities. Most of those charities actually come through word-of-mouth from our employees,” she said.

“That signature charity would be recognized for a year and our employees can make payroll deductions and that would be matched dollar for dollar by DMP.”

Hollister-Graham said the manufacturer of security and monitoring products also launched a huge initiative through the program. Dubbed Project100, the fundraiser started in 2019 with a goal of giving away $100 million in donations and volunteer hours by the end of 2025, according to past reporting.

“At the end of 2021, we had given away $112 million in money and time,” she said.

DMP officials said when announcing the achievement in early 2022 that the bulk of the roughly $112 million came in the form of donations. Roughly 10,000 volunteer hours counted toward the total, representing about $285,400 worth of work, according to past reporting. Breast Cancer Foundation of the Ozarks and Convoy of Hope were among the benefiting nonprofits.

Best practices
The panel also shared strategies and best practices to maintain or develop partnerships with businesses. Fogle referenced a study CFO commissioned last year with Habitat to determine satisfaction levels of nonprofit CEOs. The work was spurred, in part, out of concern for how the so-called “great resignation” was affecting local nonprofits, as 18 CEOs or executive directors of Springfield-area nonprofits had vacated their positions over the prior 18 months when many workers were leaving or changing positions, according to past reporting.

“What we heard loud and clear really got back to governance. So many of our board members are people that come from the private sector,” Fogle said, noting nonprofits need to understand they also are businesses.

“We need to pay our people better. We need to give them better resources. We need to set goals for our executive directors and actually need to give them reviews every year consistently like we do in our own businesses. That’s one of the biggest things we can do is be better at governance once we sit on those nonprofit boards.”

According to a 2019 report by the Center for Civil Society Studies at Johns Hopkins University, nonprofits account for roughly one in 10 jobs in the U.S. private workforce.

Spencer Harris, who co-owns Mostly Serious and Habitat, served as moderator of the panel. He said during the event Habitat and CFO also have collaborated on a new study to be presented Oct. 26 at the 12th annual Drury University Nonprofit Leadership Conference. Results of the study, which were unavailable by press time, focus on donor attitudes and preferences for those under 40 years old.

Farmer said it’s important for her to engage with businesspeople who have expertise in areas she doesn’t because it can help her ask critical questions to see challenges differently. She and Hollister-Graham also suggested businesses looking to get involved with charities determine their interests and focus on those.

“Really align with your employees on that, so that the engagement level is there,” she said. “You just have to get started.”

The chamber’s annual series concludes with the Manufacturing Outlook, set for Dec. 6 at White River Conference Center.

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