An audience of nearly 200 heard from a panel of nonprofit executives Tuesday morning at LIBN’s State of the Not-For-Profit Industry and Corporate Citizenship Awards event.
Held at the Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury, the panel included Corinne Hammons, president and CEO of Little Flower Children & Family Services of New York; David Okorn, executive director of Long Island Community Foundation; Meredith Michaels, chief development officer for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Long Island; and John Miller, president and CEO of Guide Dog Foundation & America’s VetDogs.
Moderated by Brian Sackstein, partner at Armanino LLP, and Andrew Garbarino, of counsel at Ruskin Moscou Faltischek, the panel was presented with a case study of a fictitious Long Island nonprofit as a way to explore some of the challenges and best practices of nonprofit organizations, focusing on hiring and retaining staff, rising costs of salaries and employee benefits, cybersecurity and more.
One of the most pressing challenges is finding ways to keep staff here.
To be able to recruit and retain its employees, Miller said, “We had to completely overhaul our wage scale.”
He added that it’s a different environment on Long Island right now. Miller’s nonprofit “purchased a couple of houses” near its campus to provide housing for some of its staff.
“Investing in your people is the best advice I can give,” Miller said.
Hammons said, “There can be a perception that we’re sweet and we’re little” and consequently, her nonprofit can pay low wages.
“It’s really the opposite,” she explained. “Our workforce deserves fair pay.”
Hammons added that “talking about our mission is important in retaining workers.”
Michaels said that retention of employees has become very challenging, and raising salaries can help in that regard.
“The cost to rehire is more than the increases in salary,” Michaels said. “But we’re struggling with what we’re used to and what people now expect.”
When asked how the nonprofits can keep their staff inspired and energized, panel members said the effort should come from the top down.
“I think it comes back to governance,” Hammons said. “Leadership has to show a vision for a post-COVID future. That energizes the whole organization.”
Michaels said that getting input from employees can be crucial.
“Asking the staff and finding out what they want could have value,” she said.
When the discussion turned to fundraising strategies, most of the panel agreed that events like golf outings and big galas are welcomed by contributors, but they are often expensive ways to fundraise.
“Big events only net between 40 to 60 percent and are not the best ways to do it,” Okorn said. He also lamented that Long Island has lost a few major foundations and that some banks and corporations, both major fundraising sources, have recently merged and consolidated.
“It’s a really tough spot for nonprofits,” Okorn said.
Though Little Flower holds larger signature events, Hammons said, “Corporate fundraising that’s unrestricted is the way to go.”
Michaels said the industry has been trending towards smaller cultivation and recruitment events.
“People want to support the mission,” she said, “but it’s been shifting and we’re thinking differently about recruiting potential supporters.”
Miller says his organization uses all the tools it can to fundraise from businesses and other sources.
“We have to raise $19 million a year to break even and pay our bills,” he said. “We have no lack of programs to engage companies in the mission.”
In the end, Long Island-based nonprofits are often competing for grants, corporate donors and other funding sources.
“We’re competing for the same resources, but collaboration is the way to go,” Michaels said. “We’re meeting the needs of Long Islanders more broadly.”
Okorn said his organization has been looking to fundraise from donors outside of the immediate area.
“We’re trying to bring in more resources and bring in other foundations, especially after the pandemic,” he said.
Miller acknowledged that Long Island is a crowded funding place.
“Everybody out there has a great cause,” he said. “We create value that has them buying into the mission. It’s a grind. You’ve got to work it.”