Lisa Bell has a passion for helping young people who are being bullied.
As a psychologist, she has worked for years with boys and girls who struggle as the targets of bullying to the point that they needed mental health services.
As a way to help these children and countless others she knows experience the same thing, Bell in 2005 founded a nonprofit organization to focus on bullying prevention. She created the “All-In” program to educate students on what bullying behaviors are and to help them build the skills needed to sustain healthy relationships.
The program was well-received and successful, but Bell knew early on that her passion wouldn’t be enough to keep it going. She needed help learning how to manage her nonprofit, Buddies Not Bullies, if it was going to be around long term.
“I’m trained as a psychologist, not a manager of a not-for-profit,” Bell told The Missourian. “Even though I have been involved in the formation and running of a not-for-profit for seven years now, I am always amazed at how much there is to do and how much I have to learn.”
To gain that knowledge, she turned to Nonprofit Services Center in St. Louis, enrolled in many of its classes and learned valuable information — “Quite frankly, I think that the education I have received through them has kept our agency afloat,” admits Bell.
But the distance was a problem. It limited how many classes Bell could attend and how often.
On top of that, being located in St. Louis meant that the Nonprofit Services Center staff wasn’t as familiar with Franklin County and the kinds of resources it has and doesn’t have, said Bell.
Then last May, East Central College’s Center for Workforce Development held a visioning workshop to find out about the kinds of outreach services that were needed countywide. Local community and business leaders were invited to share their comments.
“Basically we were asking, ‘What should we be doing?’ ” said Gretchen Pettet, executive director of the Center for Workforce Development.
What they heard, among other things, was a strong need and desire for a local source of educational and leadership classes for nonprofit agencies.
The result is the Nonprofit Leadership Institute, which held its first class, “Project Development and Evaluation,” just a couple of weeks ago.
Bell was among 13 attendees.
Pettet was pleased with the turnout and expects as word of what the Nonprofit Leadership Institute offers spreads, more agencies will register.
“Every nonprofit starts with a heart, a passion for the work they’re doing. . . but they all need a business mind to make it a success,” said Pettet.
That’s not knowledge many people come by intuitively, she noted. Most people need to be taught.
That’s what the Nonprofit Leadership Institute is offering.
Working with the Nonprofit Services Center of St. Louis, ECC’s Nonprofit Leadership Institute is a support program to enhance and strengthen nonprofit organizations throughout the college service region, said Pettet.
Its curriculum includes a variety of three-hour seminars, a grant-writing workshop, executive director roundtables and board member forums. Each seminar is facilitated by an expert in the subject area from the Nonprofit Services Center in St. Louis.
Seminar topics cover how to engage your board member, how to use social media, best practices in using volunteers, employee management, fundraising strategies and new board member education.
Customized training and additional consulting services also are available.
The Nonprofit Leadership Institute is working with the Economic Development Center at East Central College and other partners include Nonprofit Services Center, St. Louis; Franklin County Area United Way; Washington Rotary Club; and the ECC Foundation.
Before the Nonprofit Leadership Institute became a reality, the Center for Workforce Development pitched the idea of it to several local agencies and groups to gauge the response.
Among them were Developmental Services of Franklin County (DSFC), the Franklin County Community Resource Board, the Franklin County Area United Way and the Washington Rotary Club.
All were in support of it.
“There has been a real need for this in the community,” said Dr. Ron Kruse, executive director of DSFC, which provides funds to nonprofit agencies offering services to people with developmental disabilities.
“There is a lot of responsibility in being on a nonprofit board . . . it started with someone who saw a social need that should be addressed . . . and now they are receiving funding from somewhere, whether it’s donations or a government source, so there is a responsibility to use that money effectively.”
“You need people who are well-prepared to be board members.”
Annie Schulte, executive director for the Franklin County Community Resource Board which provides funds to nonprofit agencies offering services for local children, agrees.
All nonprofits get started because someone, somewhere has a vision for how to help, said Schulte. But that doesn’t mean they have the business savvy to keep their vision going. Grant writing is one example.
“How to write an effective grant, what to include and how to write it in a concise manner is something all nonprofits can use,” said Schulte.
“It’s difficult to take on alone. There are so many different kinds of grants so you need to be able to read them well to interpret what each grant is asking for.”
Budgeting and finance is another area that can easily trip up a nonprofit, said Schulte.
“People may have a passion for an idea, a great idea, but they may never have sat down to create a budget,” she commented.
And agencies applying to the Franklin County Community Resource Board need to prove this kind of knowledge if they hope to receive funding, Schulte explained.
“We have to make sure every dime is spent wisely . . . our numbers need to be accurate.
“A nonprofit is, in essence, a business. If you don’t have these basic business skills, that’s when nonprofits fold.”
Paula Obermark of the Franklin County Area United Way said the Nonprofit Leadership Institute has come along at just the right time.
The down economy meant funding was tighter than it had ever been at the same time that demand was increasing rapidly.
“It looked like our nonprofit world here was going to explode,” said Obermark.
She wasn’t just talking about funds. She could see a volunteer base that was on the brink of burnout because they were stretching themselves too far for too long.
The Nonprofit Leadership Institute is more than a life-preserver though. She envisions it allowing local nonprofits to improve and expand.
“It’s good for all of us,” said Obermark, noting that the United Way also is a member of the Nonprofit Leadership Institute, meaning she and her staff will be taking classes there as well.
“It increases our skill set . . . and everything is practical knowledge, things we can implement immediately to make our programs even more efficient.”
To help the many nonprofit agencies that the United Way allocates funds to take advantage of the Nonprofit Leadership Institute seminars, the United Way recently awarded a $1,000 Community Grant to the Nonprofit Leadership Institute for scholarships strictly for United Way funded agencies.
“I really do believe this program will enable a lot of agencies to survive and prosper,” said Obermark. “They can’t help but do well if they attend these classes.”
‘Greatest Return on Investment’
Nonprofit agencies can attend classes and programs offered by the Nonprofit Leadership Institute in one of two ways — by paying for the individual classes one at a time as they attend or by purchasing a membership (which can be paid in quarterly installments).
There are several advantages to a membership, said Pettet, one of which is a one-on-one coaching session for the member agency with Colleen Himmelberg of Meteor Vision and Development Services LLC.
Himmelberg will sit down with the agency staff to map out which of the Nonprofit Leadership Institute’s programs would be most beneficial to attend and which staff or board member would be the ideal person to attend.
“We know it’s not the executive director who does all of the work for these agencies,” said Pettet. “We know you’ve got to engage the board members too, and board members have day jobs, so you get pieces of them, which is why we didn’t limit membership to executive directors.”
“It’s about managing the madness,” added Himmelberg, quoting a phrase often repeated by Linda Aitch of the Nonprofit Services Center, who taught the first class at ECC. “This is such a huge, robust and diverse program that we want to get the right people in the right seat at the right time.”
Another advantage to membership is the number of services included for the price. Membership provides an agency with six attendances to any of the Nonprofit Leadership Institute’s three-hour training seminars, as well as attendance to a three-day grant writing workshop, participation in quarterly executive director roundtable discussions and participation in the bi-annual board member forums.
“We tried to structure it in a way that gives them the most bang for their buck,” said Pettet.
An agency can send a representative to six different classes or they can send six people to one class or they can send two people to three classes or whatever combination they feel best suits their needs.
“It’s about the collective impact of participation,” said Pettet, “the training, the networking, the collaboration . . . that could help their organization have the greatest return on their investment.”
To further make the Nonprofit Leadership Institute available to local nonprofit agencies, the ECC Foundation and Washington Rotary Club have provided financial assistance in the form of scholarships.
Four member scholarships were awarded to Buddies Not Bullies, Franklin County CASA, Gateway Center for Autism and Community Support Initiative.
Agencies Speak Out
Glenda Volmert of Franklin County CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocates, a children’s advocacy agency, said the Nonprofit Leadership Institute is providing her guidance in areas of the nonprofit arena where many agencies have “common obstacles” — board development, sustainability and management of staff and volunteers.
“Franklin County CASA has an advantage in being a member of a state and national CASA program,” said Volmert. “They have given our program an outline of program policy and standards for us to model locally . . . CASA decided to invest in the opportunities given locally to help our program with capacity building.
“As our program transitions from toddler to adolescent stages in our growth the board of directors thought the opportunities offered by the Nonprofit Leadership Institute will help us in our transition.”
The challenges CASA currently faces are due to natural attrition, board term limits and decrease in federal funding opportunities.
“We are looking to the Nonprofit Leadership Institute to provide resources to our new board members since we have five of our original board members exiting due to term limits being met,” said Volmert. “We also hope the Nonprofit Leadership Institute will educate us about new funding sources and some tips on how to approach those avenues effectively.”
As a member of the Nonprofit Leadership Institute, CASA received one-on-one counseling with Himmelberg, which Volmert said helped her and the board focus on how to reach the greatest potential in the staff, board and volunteers by utilizing each’s strength and delegating duties accordingly.
“She helped us map our year ahead through participation in the different sessions provided by the Nonprofit Leadership Institute,” said Volmert.
Kim Helm, executive director and speech/language pathologist with Gateway Center for Autism, said like Bell, she too drove into St. Louis or even Columbia to find the training she needed when starting her nonprofit.
“So to have it here, locally, is really a blessing,” she remarked.
“And they can tailor it to fit our community.”
For more information on the Nonprofit Leadership Institute or upcoming events, people can email Pettet at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 636-239-0598.