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Partnership aims to strengthen nonprofits

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Todd Cohen

DURHAM, N.C. — Triangle Community Foundation and Executive Service Corps of the Greater Triangle are continuing for a second year a partnership to help nonprofits strengthen their internal operations.

With a $10,000 grant, the second from the foundation, Executive Service Corps will assign volunteer consultants to advise a handful of nonprofits on topics such as board development, fundraising strategy, strategic planning, and executive coaching.

“Supporting nonprofit capacity-building work is one of the strongest investments that funders can make,” says Robyn Fehrman, community program officer at Triangle Community Foundation. “Strong, efficient, dynamic organizations are able to exponentially increase the impact of the grants they are provided.”

Trudy Smith, executive director of Executive Service Corps, says nonprofits typically “need money, staffing, engaged boards, efficiency, financial analysis and leadership, either on the board or the staff,” while nonprofit executive directors also “need somebody to talk to.”

A critical challenge for nonprofits is to assess “where they are and where they are going and how they can survive and do better than that to thrive,” Smith says.

But nonprofits may be reluctant to take stock of themselves, she says, either because they lack the funding to pay for it, are not aware of their needs, or are “too busy to stop and think about what would make their life easier.”

Fehrman says the foundation wants to provide capacity-building support through third-parties like Executive Service Corps because nonprofits also may not be comfortable talking about their internal challenges with potential funders.

But to thrive and achieve their missions, she says, all organizations must be focusing both on their external and internal operations.

Consider Girls Rock NC.

Formed in 2004 to provide a week-long rock camp designed to help girls age seven to 17build character and self-esteem, Girls Rock NC this year received IRS certification to operate as a tax-exempt charity.

Needing to form a board and gear up to raise money as the number of girls in the summer camp has quadrupled, expected to total 100 this summer, the all-volunteer group a year ago turned to Triangle Community Foundation for help.

The foundation, in an ongoing effort to support nonprofits beyond simply making grants, was preparing to launch its partnership with Executive Service Corps, a group formed in 1987 that has matched volunteer consultants with over 300 nonprofits wanting to strengthen their operating “capacity.”

So as one of five nonprofits that the consulting group advised through an initial grant from Triangle Community Foundation, Girls Rock NC worked with two Executive Service Corps consultants on how to create its own board.

The two consultants, both of them women who have served on nonprofit boards and run their own businesses, helped the three volunteer directors of Girls Rock NC develop a plan for the types of members the new board would need and how to recruit them.

And with a separate grant it will make, Executive Service Corps will provide an orientation workshop for the new board.

“Their expertise helped us to not have to reinvent the wheel,” says Amelia Shull, a rock musician and art teacher at Carolina Friends School who founded Girls Rock NC. “They know so much about how to get things done.” For the long-term, Shull hopes to develop a fundraising and marketing strategy, launch an after-school program to provide year-round opportunities for teen girls, and find a larger home for the summer camps, now held in space contributed by the ArtsCenter in Carrboro and Camelot Academy in Durham.

“We know it’s going to keep growing,” she says. “If we only had more space and funds, we could provide this for more girls.”

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