Sixty four meetings a year. If you’re a board member, this is overwhelming. If you’re a nonprofit staff member, you are buried under the constant coordination of board and committee meetings. So you can imagine the change that took place at Oswego County Opportunities when they trimmed their board committees from eight to four, and reduced the annual number of full board and committee meetings to 26.
Not only was there more time to plan, the restructuring emphasized the board’s role in higher level policy decisions – a step that was vital if OCO were to recruit and maintain busy business leaders. “They were focused so deeply on one area they didn’t hear enough about the organization as a whole. They wanted, needed and now get the whole picture, not a silo,” comments OCO executive director Diane Cooper-Currier. “The new structure went in place this past fall and already board members are indicating they feel better informed.”
Changing this structure was just one of the outcomes of OCO’s 2013-2015 participation in ADVANS, (Advancing and Developing the Assets and Value of Nonprofits in Syracuse), a major capacity building initiative started by the Foundation in 2007. Over the course of two years OCO undertook an intensive assessment and capacity planning process and received $69,500 in grants and local consulting services. The consultant continued working with the organization after the initial assessment ended, insuring that elements such as restructuring occurred in the best way possible.
How about some further numbers? $40,000 led to $500,000 over two years – quite a return on investment. This came about as a result of the ADVANS grant awarded to OCO to implement their assessment recommendations of growing financial systems and diversifying revenue, especially in building a stronger donor base. The $40,000 in capacity investment went towards partial support of a fund development coordinator.
Typically OCO raised $30k a year in donations, but the new coordinator raised $200,000 in their first year and $300,000 in the second. This person is now dedicated to building relationships with individuals and businesses, and is designing a first ever major gift program. With the improvement of their cash position and stronger cash management approaches, OCO has for the first time been able to invest $1 million, resulting in additional income.
Since the assessment also identified a need to build relationships in the community, and focus knowledge sharing with the board, OCO developed a communications plan. With this plan in hand, OCO received support from a local bank to underwrite a campaign that included new ways and methods of communicating the OCO mission.
The ripple effect of ADVANS participation, and the Lifecycles approach, has often been noted but rarely is such a compelling example given to us as with OCO. Each ADVANS organization submits a written reflection at the end of their two year program, but usually the most noticeable changes occur in years after ADVANS. “We had a reunion of our cohort this past fall, which spurred us to pull out our work plan and revisit our progress,” comments Cooper-Currier. “It was an accountability check. We asked ourselves ‘is it still relevant? Have we made the needle move?’ The answer was a resounding yes.”