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Nonprofit cohort graduates praise LSUS's program

Class photo of graduates from the nonprofit cohort.
Local nonprofit directors participated in a 10-month cohort to learn the nuances of nonprofit administration. During a Tuesday graduation, the cohort members presented on how the program benefitted their nonprofits. The cohort was organized by LSUS's Institute for Nonprofit Administration and Research and funded by a grant from the Beaird Family Foundation.

Fundraising. Board development. Organizational efficiency. Relationship building with clients and staff. Marketing and brand recognition. Fifteen directors of local nonprofit organizations presented their final projects Tuesday after participating in the 2023 Nonprofit Capacity Building Cohort. The projects included various aspects of nonprofit administration, but Robinson Film Center’s Wendell Riley summarized best the impact of the 10-month journey. “The cohort was like therapy,” Riley said. “Having people articulate the same things that you’re dealing with was therapeutic. Sometimes you can feel alone in the nonprofit world with all the things that need to be done, but developing relationships in this cohort reminds you that there are people out here trying to make the community a better place to live.”

Tuesday’s graduation was a demonstration of a tangible project that each nonprofit organization executed during the cohort, which was organized by LSUS’s Institute for Nonprofit Administration and Research and funded by a grant from the Carolyn W. and Charles T. Beaird Family Foundation. The directors gleaned knowledge and guidance from nonprofit mentors and a series of 13 workshops that addressed a variety of challenges that nonprofits face.

“We’re grateful to the Beaird Foundation for their role in this capacity-building cohort in northwest Louisiana,” said Dr. Heather Carpenter, INAR’s executive director. “Our participants completed a competitive application process. They were matched with mentors who provided specialized feedback and completed an assessment that identified areas in which they should focus on in this project. Today is about celebrating the progress of these incredible organizations.”

Another cohort experience will be available in the coming months as INAR is partnering with the Community Foundation of North Louisiana, which is awarding a $50,000 grant to provide 10 nonprofit organizations a chance to participate in a similar project. “The format will be similar in that they’ll participate in workshops and nonprofit administration projects to enhance professional development,” Carpenter said. “Individual projects will be specifically related to their grant. The Community Foundation will select the participants for this next cohort in Spring 2024. There is a lot of help for small businesses from the government and the Small Business Administration, but when it comes to nonprofits, there is a gap. We’re trying to help fill that gap here at INAR, and we couldn’t do it without the support of organizations like the Community Foundation of North Louisiana and the Beaird Foundation.”

In Tuesday’s graduation ceremony, nonprofits in fields like the arts, social services, education and membership organizations discussed how cohort participation improved their operations. The Bossier Council on Aging altered the manner in which it delivered meals to seniors, creating a new position (assistant to the wellness director) while contracting another company to make the actual meal deliveries. “Even though we were making less direct contact with our seniors, we found that we were having more meaningful conversations via telephone than the minute or two we were with them to deliver their meals,” said director Tamara Crane. “Our phone conversations lasted on average seven to eight minutes, and there’ve been instances where we’ve notified family members of things the senior is experiencing that they weren’t communicating to family. The new delivery system also allows seniors more meal variety, including kosher and other specialized options.”

The audience looks on as local nonprofit directors presented how participating in LSUS's nonprofit cohort benefited their organizations. The directors participated in a 10-month program that involved workshops on various topics and one-on-one sessions with a local nonprofit mentor. The cohort was organized by LSUS's Institute for Nonprofit Administration and Research and funded by a grant from the Beaird Family Foundation.

A handful of mentees were new hires who were feeling their way in their first supervisory role in the nonprofit world. Brittany Pope of the Bossier Arts Council realized an internal realignment was needed to capitalize on her staff’s strengths. “The machine just wasn’t working as efficiently as it could have been, so we worked on everything from rewriting job descriptions to re-engaging the Bossier Parish government,” Pope said. “We revived partnerships like the one with The Shreveport Opera, and cohosting events like that has brought back a lot of our old donors. “We found out that we have a lot of allies out there that are willing to help us in a number of ways.”

Emily Jo Manchester-Sanden has spent her whole professional life at the nonprofit Renesting Project Inc., a community furniture bank. Ascending to the head of the nonprofit a few months before joining the cohort, Manchester-Sanden wanted a concrete onboarding and training process along with an updated operation manual. “I was a first-time manager, and I had left two jobs earlier in my life because I feel like I wasn’t trained properly,” Manchester-Sanden said. “I created an aspirational organization chart if money were no object as a goal-setting exercise. “But what I really took away from the experience is you have to set boundaries and attempt to have work-life balance. We did make progress on those other things, but I learned that change happens a little bit at a time.”

Organizations that provided direct help to the community were a significant portion of the cohort’s membership, but director Lois Maberry’s Settled Inn Village entered the cohort in a time of crisis. Settled Inn Village, which aims to house people in tiny homes, learned that it couldn’t build on a piece of newly acquired property. “I thought my project was going to have to be how to dissolve a nonprofit,” Maberry said. “But I was able to share, to give and to grow in this cohort, and I’m happy to report that we’re close to acquiring another piece of property. “My project focused on a volunteer program once we’re in a position to use that resource, and I was able to establish a training and verification program for our volunteers.”

Communication was key for chief financial officer Jamie Jones and Community Support Programs Inc., which provides housing and other support services.

“We hosted a retreat for our board of directors in which we explained in detail how each of our programs functions and how it aligns with our overall mission,” Jones said. “We also learned more about our board members and their connections, and established guidelines and goals for board member activity. “Everyone has bought into this process, and we’re a better organization because of it.” Brand recognition and website redesign has helped North Louisiana Jewish Federation increase its visibility among its constituents.

“I made our old website in Word Press, but now we have a website that houses content from our national organization and is capable of accepting donations and payments,” Barbara Joseph said. “Instead of pursuing aggressive fundraising, we decided to make ‘care calls’ to check up on members as well as add ways to donate at events in which we were already attending.

“We went from 12 donors to 54 donors in the same time frame. We’re making more connections and developing more partnerships, which allows us to increase our programming.” The Red River Revel’s Logan Lewis knew his organization desperately needed software and data management improvement. “We went from a Model T (Ford) to a Lamborghini, and we’ve been able to significantly reduce our time in terms of what we used to do manually,” Lewis said. “This software has allowed us to speak to our volunteers and donors in a smarter and more meaningful way, and we’ve established better relationships because of it. This process took almost a year, but it’s allowed us to tailor different messages to different audiences in a way that’s more impactful. Being a part of this cohort has allowed me to learn from the mentors and the other participants, and we’re sharing what we’re doing.”

Other organizations involved in the cohort include the North Louisiana LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce (EP Bourgoyne), Northpoint Community Church (Clarrissa Stephens), Golden Angels Nonprofit (Golden Ellis), Noel Community Arts Program (Tracy McComic), Renzi Education and Art Center (Belinda Roberson), and Koala Club (Dee Racouillat).


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