By Lynn Ivey
I was an executive with Bank of America when I got a call from my dad that changed everything. Mom had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
When I heard how tired Dad sounded, I knew he couldn’t face this alone. I took a leave of absence from the bank to spend more time in Wilmington, North Carolina, where my parents lived, to figure out next steps.
Adult day care became a critical part of Mom’s daily plan of care. It allowed her to continue to live at home, as she preferred, but gave Dad a break from the stresses of constant care. Adult day care provided an irreplaceable service to my family. But I also saw how the typical adult day care could be improved. After much research and planning, my team and I broke ground on The Ivey Memory Wellness Day Center in 2006, the same week Mom passed away.
The Ivey serves individuals in the greater Charlotte area who are living with mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, and other causes of dementia, including Parkinson’s and stroke. Members come to The Ivey each day for life enriching socialization, recreational, musical, and artistic activities, healthy and delicious meals, healthcare monitoring from our full-time, on-site registered nursing team, and specialty therapies, including speech, physical, and occupational therapy. It all happens in a beautiful, 11,000- square-foot center that looks like a mountain lodge
We follow the tenets laid out in Dr. John Zeisel’s I’m Still Here: A New Philosophy of Alzheimer’s Care. By focusing on our members’ strengths, not their deficits, we develop strategies to tap into or access the memories they have by reconnecting through the arts, music, and social connectedness. The sooner a member begins attending The Ivey or a similar center after diagnosis, the more likely that person will retain more memories and abilities for a longer time, preventing a premature move to an assisted living facility or nursing home.
Our members return to the comfort of their own homes at night, where their spouses or adult children take care of them. As a result, The Ivey also serves and supports each person’s family. Our services allow caregivers to continue to hold jobs, maintain friendships, and refresh from the responsibilities of providing constant care. At our free support groups, caregivers share a laugh with others who understand their experiences. The Ivey also educates the broader Charlotte community with free programs on caregiving strategies and the latest research.
We’re grateful The Ivey has received national recognition for our work. The need is great. Every 67 seconds, someone in the U.S. develops Alzheimer’s, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. North Carolina needs more adult day care centers now and the need will only grow in coming years, as devastated families look for help.
When I got the call about my own mother, I never expected it would lead to a career change. I’ve learned some key lessons in my journey from corporate to nonprofit executive:
Understand your customer. Nonprofits have customers, too. Listen to customers to uncover their needs. Don’t underestimate the need to educate the market about the value of your particular product or service and how it can solve your target audience’s problems. We glean valuable insights through regularly scheduled care plan meetings with each member’s family. The family feels empowered and we build relationships.
Understand why your donors give. Some are motivated for religious reasons. Some see it as an investment in the community. Others appreciate the fun that comes with being involved in a cause. Giving can also be a way to express one’s values. Know what motivates your donors and it will be easier to find more like-minded people.
Whether you call it marketing and sales or education and outreach, understand you need both functions. Especially if your nonprofit generates revenue from services and products, you need a sales function. Sales is different from marketing. Marketing is creating the message and support that the sales team needs. Nonprofits generally do this by educating the market about their cause. Sales is closing the deal – getting the prospect to purchase your product or service, or to be involved in your organization.
When you’re hiring, look for heart as well as skills. You need both if you hope to have a staff who will be passionate advocates for your clientele and your organization, as well as possess the necessary skills to make the organization operate successfully. Think big as you respond to constituent needs. In the next several years, we hope to expand our organization’s services on a recently acquired lot adjacent to The Ivey. The possibilities include adding residential overnight space for short-term stays for our members who attend the day center. As the health of caregivers often suffers, a short-term stay for loved ones allows caregivers to take a longer break from the constancy of caregiving.
It’s just the kind of service I would have wanted for my family.
Lynn Ivey is founder and CEO of The Ivey Memory Wellness Center in Charlotte. Learn more at www.theivey.org.