Nonprofits focus on awareness

By Leslie Williams

As follow-up to the first-ever Nonprofit Congress, held in Washington, D.C., in October, a group of North Carolina delegates are in talks over how to keep up the momentum begun by the conference.

“Everybody came away and they were ready for change,” says Tharesa Lee, the nonprofit coordinator at the Neuse River Community Development Corporation in New Bern.  “I just don’t see letting the ball drop.”

Lee is one of 13 North Carolina delegates to the Congress who have since formed the Nonprofit Congress Task Force.

The task force has regular phone conferences to discuss how to move forward with the ideas outlind at the Congress and, on Feb. 15, the delegates will meet to flesh out plans for the coming months.

One key point at the meeting will be to explore the possibility of holding a nonprofit awareness week in April.

Shirley Robinson, director of development at the N.C. Rural Center in Raleigh, says the task force originally discussed holding the event on a statewide level.

But because so many agencies are already under budgetary and staff constraints, she says, an additional event to plan might be overwhelming for North Carolina’s nonprofits.

“It’s a big undertaking,” she says.

Instead, the task force has discussed starting in one or two localized areas. Robinson says the task force will work on creating a basic information kit to help nonprofits explain their roles in communities, with an eye toward holding their own awareness weeks.

Armed with those tools, nonprofits would be encouraged to seek media attention to highlight their services and contributions.

Also in the works is a “virtual nonprofit shutdown,” a pilot program including awareness and educational events that could take place in New Bern sometime this year.

“We can’t actually stop our services,” Robinson says. “But what would happen if we did? It’s an imaginative exercise.”

Robinson says holding the event in New Bern would be a litmus test for other communities interested in hosting a similar project.

Lee’s agency was identified as the one to test such an event, she says, because her colleagues in New Bern were excited by the concept, and the Neuse River Development Corporation has an active nonprofit council.

“We really want to keep the energy going,” she says. “Somebody’s got to step up to the plate.”

Preliminary plans for the virtual shutdown include a week of awareness and educational opportunities for the general public, much like those in the works for the more basic awareness week.

The actual details of the “virtual shutdown” have yet to be outlined.

Lee says the buildup to the shutdown would underline the three priorities laid out by the Congress in October: the grassroots activities of local nonprofits, efficacy and accountability in the sector, and public awareness and support of agencies.

The hope, Lee says, is to prompt residents to think about how their community would be altered without the presence of nonprofits like the Neuse River Development Corporation.

“We want to show people that nonprofits are the compassionate heart of the city,” she says.

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