Trends Shaping Nonprofits in Columbia

Opinion by Greg DeLine and Andrew Grabau

Andrew Grabau, the executive director of the Heart of Missouri United Way, Inc. and I meet for coffee regularly to discuss how Boone County can be a better community for families. Our personal and professional missions align in that we want to leave the world a better place than we found it. Sounds simple enough. The key, though, is how to support and empower a broader network of collaborators to successfully address the systemic root causes of the obstacles facing those struggling to meet life’s basic needs.

That’s where nonprofit resources and expertise come in. But nonprofits can’t go it alone. The support of individuals and businesses is greatly needed for this ecosystem to work.

In one of our recent discussions, Andrew and I compared national challenges to what’s happening locally and how nonprofit organizations, donors and volunteers are responding in Boone County. Below is what we’ve identified as key areas of focus and how they are taking shape right here in central Missouri.

Focus Area: Regulatory and Personal Shifts in Charitable Giving

There is emerging evidence that due to the changes in the standard deduction with personal taxes, fewer individuals are donating to organizations. However, research shows that the value of the average gift by individuals is rising. Peer-to-peer fundraising has also increased considerably.

Andrew: Nonprofits must continue to share their vision and communicate the importance of financial support in achieving their vision. Supporting a nonprofit is more than just a tax deduction. For the United Way, it’s about making an investment in our community and neighbors to lift up everyone living in poverty. The uptick in the average gift may be a sign that nonprofits are having success in sharing their vision with larger donors, but that needs to be with every group. Peer-to-peer fundraising is usually vision-based too, driven by passion. This is just one more proof point about the importance of sharing the vision.

Greg: Businesses have a real opportunity to use their resources to fund or donate in-kind services that match the needs of a specific program. As a board president for local nonprofits in Columbia, I see businesses stepping up to meet these needs. I anticipate this will continue to increase as nonprofits improve the way they ask for support.

Businesses or individuals should also be aware of state tax credits such as the Affordable Housing Assistance Program Tax Credit (AHAP) offered by the Missouri Housing Development Commission. This one-time credit for qualifying Missouri businesses and individuals is an incentive to participate in affordable housing production and operations. If these types of credits fall within someone’s areas of expertise and it’s for the good of the community, why not participate?

Focus Area: Fighting Poverty through Better Data

Every organization that devotes resources to addressing poverty must use data to measure their program’s effectiveness and reach their neighbors in need. Data should enable organizations to better frame the need when making funding decisions as well as debriefing their effectiveness.

Andrew: Community resources are too precious, and time is too short to not measure the impact of our work; data allows us to do that. Nonprofits owe it to our donors and neighbors in need to ensure community investments are helping those who need it most.

For example, looking at low unemployment data may suggest that our local economy is strong. However, unemployment among African Americans is still double-digits — same with individuals with disabilities. Many have low wages. Forty percent of households reporting income in Boone County earn under 200% of the Federal Poverty Level (around $24,000 for an individual, $40,000 for one adult with two kids). Data helps nonprofits make smarter decisions and have greater impact.

Greg: Fighting poverty is an area where I see Columbia businesses, volunteers and donors coming together to make a real difference. Poverty tends to be the root cause of so many other challenges, such as alcohol or drug abuse, homelessness, job loss and hunger. If we break it down into root causes, there are very different needs that must be addressed, and community support is what’s needed to make an impact. Everybody deserves a hand up. It’s good for society and greatly needed in this area.

A great example of fighting poverty is a joint effort by Phoenix Programs and Welcome Home. These local nonprofits combined resources through the VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) grant program. The organizations identified and secured permanent housing for more than 100 homeless veterans in Columbia and the 18-county area.

Focus Area: Community Engagement Expectation Differences

We need a community that does more than just donate money. We also need volunteers. One difference among generations is that volunteers have different expectations in what they want to get out of engagement and how deep they go with one organization, compared to supporting several nonprofits. Not only do volunteers offset some costs to provide services that an otherwise paid staff member would provide, but it also brings them closer to their neighbors to better understand and see the challenges firsthand.

Andrew: United Way had more than 300 volunteers at our Day of Caring, which served many of our nonprofit partner agencies with mission-based projects. The day created exposure and awareness of community issues, and we all have a role in strengthening it.

Greg: Business principles such as empowering people through tools and resources works well for community engagement. A great example is through the number of individuals impacted by Love INC, Columbia’s Bike to the Future program. I’m incredibly proud to support this program. To date, more than 424 bikes have been provided for those who need transportation. But it’s not just about the number of bikes. It’s about the network of people who dedicate their time and offer their skills in different ways to donate bikes, repair them, clean them up and deliver them to individuals in need who now have easier access to work, shopping and so much more.

Focus Area: Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Essential for Multicultural Society

This is an area that needs to be handled with intentionality and purpose. This is about making sure nonprofits advance inclusion and equity in the delivery of services. Nonprofits should also be intentional about inviting diverse members of our community to their boards, volunteer ranks and staff — and making that a priority.

Andrew: There is a compelling position paper released by the Racial Equity Institute called “The Groundwater Approach.” It uses a metaphor regarding the challenges around equity. If the groundwater is polluted with racial inequity, then we will never solve the issues we face unless we address the source. The nonprofit sector cannot be the only one that works to resolve this, however; we must be community leaders and seek change based at the root cause (or groundwater). That means exploring how we leverage our work to bring greater awareness and incorporate a holistic 360 approach, similar to the Inclusive Excellence Framework that is being championed by the University of Missouri.

Greg: Nonprofit boards are missing an opportunity to grow and enrich the lives of others if they are not assessing who is serving on the board and leading special task forces. Diversity and inclusion help shape how the nonprofit’s mission is advanced, along with expanding connections with collaborative partners, potential donors and policy makers. 

Regardless of trends or challenges, one thing is for certain. The commitment of so many nonprofit leaders, board of directors’ representatives and volunteers in the Columbia and Boone County area will keep the mission alive for so many organizations that provide vital services and support for our residents.




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