Community — 07 March 2009
Nonprofits Team Up To Survive In Tough Economy

In early January, Melinda Patrician, Executive Director of Volunteer Alexandria, and Lissette Bishins, Executive Director of the Alexandria Red Cross, were attending a networking event on collaboration for nonprofits. In the course of their conversation, Bishins mentioned that the Alexandria Red Cross had rental space available. Patrician replied that the Volunteer Alexandria office lease on Mt. Vernon Avenue was up for renewal. A few weeks later, Volunteer Alexandria had moved into the third floor at the Alexandria Red Cross building on Alfred Street, bringing $20,000 in yearly revenue to the Red Cross and at the same time saving Volunteer Alexandria more than $12,000 a year. This speaks to the value of getting together, Patrician said. Taking some of your limited time to share information and ideas and to find ways to collaborate pays off.

Conversations like the one between the Alexandria Red Cross and Volunteer Alexandria are happening all over, said Jonelle Wallmeyer, Executive Director of Alexandria Community Trust (ACT). In March 2006, ACT hosted the first organizational meeting of the Alexandria Council of Human Services Organizations (ACHSO), with 55 city and nonprofit agencies working towards the goal of improving the delivery of services through collaboration.

At the February meeting, ACHSO members discussed the facilitation of greater collaboration and sharing at every level, including sharing programs, resources, technical information and possibly space. There is an unbelievable financial and volume of services stress on organizations right now and at the same time an opportunity to work smarter and more effectively, Wallmeyer said, referring to the meeting of the ACHSO. There is an opportunity to work smarter and more effectively.

The City of Alexandria recently launched Give Alexandria with the goal of building a community network that will give Alexandrians a place where they can donate their money, time and resources. The Alexandria Community Trust, the City of Alexandria, Volunteer Alexandria and the Alexandria Council of Human Service Organizations are the sponsoring agencies. In a recent survey of nonprofits, 80 percent said that they planned to just ride out the crisis. Many plan to reduce staff and cut or reduce services and answered that they dont know what funding will still be available to them. The ability to work together will aid all participating organizations.

For the Alexandria resident or organization wanting to give financially, or to give of their time or other resources, the structures are in place to do that. On the Volunteer Alexandria web site is the Give Alexandria Needs List. Organizations promote their wish list and those giving know exactly what is needed. ALIVE! needs protein foods like canned meats or canned tuna. Bethany House needs rice, fresh vegetables and pastas. Coats for Kids needs new winter coats, hats and gloves. Entries on the website have contact information and instructions on how to get donations to the organization making the request. Donors can target their giving in any way they like.

For a business looking for a win-win opportunity, they could consider a dining/shopping night with 10 percent of proceeds being donated to their charity of choice. The business gets the publicity and increased customer traffic with the nonprofit helping to promote the event.

For the person who can only volunteer their time, there are many opportunities to share skills or to learn new ones. At Volunteer Alexandria volunteering numbers are up. In the last six months, 389 people have signed on to the volunteer registry. Last year during the same period there were 178. As unemployment goes up, so does the number of volunteers, said Melinda Patrician at Volunteer Alexandria. Individuals who have had their hours reduced or who are looking for work often find that volunteering leads to new opportunities. Networking always helps.

Grants for nonprofits are still being awarded. At the end of January, ACT announced grants totaling $94,000 to Alexandria Neighborhood Health Services, Inc., ALIVE!, Christ Church, Community Lodgings, Friends of Guest House, New Neighbors Education Center, Rebuilding Together Alexandria, Senior Services of Alexandria, the Campagna Center and the Reading Connection. The challenge of these financially volatile times is to make sure that every dollar delivers the greatest return, Wallmeyer said. These grants provide a continued stream of funding.

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