Tag Archives: Nonprofit News

Nonprofit News: Avoiding client disclosure on social media

By “Doc Warren” Corson III February 13, 2017

To many people, social media is the best thing since the abacus, transforming the way we live and do business. It offers us a world of knowledge with the stroke of a few keys and the briefest of pauses.

Of course, social media can be both a tool and a crutch that leads to sloppy habits. With the advent of clinician-centered discussion groups on Facebook and other online and social media sites that cater solely to clinical professionals, clinicians are posting an increasing amount of client-related information, sometimes going beyond what the ACA Code of Ethics and relevant laws allow. These clinicians are potentially leaving their clients vulnerable, while leaving themselves and their employers open to ethical complaints and legal suits.

The discussions that were once the domain of individual or group supervision now can be found on any number of social media platforms designed for counselors. Some of these posts come from clinicians from large programs, while others originate with those who are in private or small group practices. Perhaps this shows a lack of experience and knowledge combined with little to no supervision or oversight. I haven’t been able to find a comprehensive study that helps shed light on this topic.

Whatever the cause, accusations that a client’s privacy has been violated can lead to charges of malpractice (and other charges) being filed against the clinician and his or her employer. Comprehensive training followed by regular refreshers could do much to reduce this type of liability.

 

A problem since the early days of the internet

Since the advent of the internet and online bulletin boards (the precursors to Listservs, social media and online groups), there have been issues trying to balance new technology with privacy. About a decade ago, I briefly ran an online group for clinical professionals that was designed so that we could discuss general issues and concerns related to the counseling profession. Sometimes the discussion turned to challenging client cases. Several people, including David Kaplan, chief professional officer of the American Counseling Association, raised questions about this issue. A good-hearted, if sometimes heated, debate took place on these threads, and some very differing opinions were presented. It ultimately did little, however, to change the content of the postings. Within months, I was no longer affiliated with the online discussion group, in large part because of concerns I had about potential ethical violations.

I recently contacted David Kaplan again (he is still in the same role with ACA) to get his opinion on this topic. He agreed that it has been a long-standing issue and that, for both ethical and legal reasons, client information should never be posted on social media. To me, the most powerful thing he said was, “The key for me is the statement at the end [of the ACA Connect site rules and etiquette page]: ‘Please ensure that you phrase your post in a manner that does not describe an actual client.’”

Rather than listing several pages of links to ethical codes, state and federal laws, and the like, I will share the applicable rules and etiquette section from ACA Connect, ACA’s online communities that encourage discussion between counseling professionals.

“Do not present aspects of a case even if the client’s name is not given. Posts that give details about a specific client will be removed. Due to the potential violation of both the ACA Code of Ethics, state and/or federal law, case consultation is not allowed on ACA Connect. It is not permissible to present aspects of a case on a counseling listserv or online forum even if the client’s name is not given. Information shared by a client and clinical impressions must be afforded the same level of confidentiality as the name of the client. Describing a client’s presenting problem, diagnosis, or clinical treatment approach through listservs or online forums – even if the client’s name is not given – is a violation of confidentiality. It is perfectly fine to discuss issues (e.g., asking, ‘Does anyone have any resources on eating disorders in male wrestlers?’ or, ‘Does anyone have a referral to a specialist in PTSD in the Boston area?’), but please ensure that you phrase your post in a manner that does not describe an actual client.”

Owners, overseers, monitors and associated workers of online professional sites, Listserves, groups on social media and other platforms, be they volunteer or paid, could benefit greatly by posting rules that are similar to those above. The enforcement of those rules would prove invaluable.

 

Examples of violations

What follows are some examples of posts that, although they are well-meaning, could potentially lead to ethics or legal charges. (These examples are inspired by actual posts but are not being shared verbatim because I do want not to spread liability or bring possible embarrassment to the original posters; this article is about education, not shaming or embarrassing my fellow clinicians who work hard daily to assist those in their care).

  • “Hi all. I’m looking to make a referral for marriage counseling for a couple that has been married for 14 years. There have been multiple affairs by the stay-at-home husband while his wife was working in the insurance industry. She works till 6 p.m., so evening sessions are a must. They are in the Springfield area and have XYZ insurance.”
  • “I have a client who is 14 years old, has a history of cutting and has recently regressed after her parents told her and her twin brother that they are divorcing. She had also disclosed that she feels she may be bisexual. Any resources that may assist me in treating her would be greatly appreciated.”
  • “OK, so I have this client I’ll call ‘Will.’ I’ve worked with him for several years in my private practice in Newport News. He’s a retired steamfitter and the father of three young adults — two male and one female. Recently, the daughter called me to tell me that she noticed that some of her underwear is missing and suspects that he may have taken them and is possibly wearing them. She doesn’t want to talk to him about this but wants me to explore this in my next session with him. Any suggestions as to how I should approach this with him?”

 

Ways to avoid a violation

  • “Hi all. I’m looking to increase my referral list and am looking for clinicians in the Springfield area who have evening session times and take XYZ insurance. Experience with familial issues would be a plus.”
  • “I’m looking for resources for working with teens who cut and also for sexuality related issues. Thanks!”
  • In my opinion, the third example is beyond paraphrasing. It shows the need for good supervision even when in private practice. The information provided would make it easy to identify this family, even in a city that has a large shipyard.

 

Social media is not a replacement for supervision

In an increasingly connected world, it is important to remember that social media cannot replace the ethical requirement for supervision and it should not be treated as such. Joining these online/social media discussion sites for clinicians can make us feel more connected and less isolated professionally. They can help build a referral base and can help us to plan social events, but they are simply unsuitable for case consults.

Many of us employ a “we are all on the same team” mindset, and that can do much to help our profession. At the same time, we need to remember that seeking advice on these online/social media websites will never be the equal of calling the clinician in the office next to you and doing a case consult. Our clients are counting on us to keep their lives private; our ethics code and laws related to our profession are here to ensure that we do just that.

If you are in a small practice, be it group or individual, for-profit or nonprofit, be sure to have a solid source for clinical supervision and consultation that falls well within industry standards. This not only helps protect our clients, but also protects us against potential legal and ethical violations.

 

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Dr. Warren Corson III

“Doc Warren” Corson III is a counselor, educator, writer and the founder, developer, and clinical and executive director of Community Counseling Centers of Central CT Inc. (www.docwarren.org) and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm (www.pillwillop.org). Contact him at docwarren@docwarren.org. Additional resources related to nonprofit design, documentation and related information can be found at docwarren.org/supervisionservices/resourcesforclinicians.html.

 

 

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

Nonprofit News: Independent contractor or employee?

By “Doc Warren” Corson III January 10, 2017

As I review job postings for clinicians, I see a disturbing trend of nonprofits hiring independent contractors rather than full- or part-time employees. Although there can be some benefits for both the nonprofit and the contractor at times, many liabilities can come into play as well. This article is not meant to be an exhaustive exploration of the topic, and I am far from a legal or tax expert, but my hope is that this column might inspire you to think carefully before posting or replying to an ad for an independent contractor.

The status that you work or hire under can offer either liability or protection, depending on the situation. The liability can come in the form of IRS penalties and potential loss of eligibility for unemployment protection and malpractice insurance protection. FindLaw (findlaw.com) and EmployeeIssues.com are two resources that can help you learn the basics of these issues, but there is no replacement for meeting with an expert if you are contemplating moving your hires to independent contractors. Personally, I prefer to hire folks for my nonprofit as part-time employees so I can avoid potential issues with the state department of labor and the IRS. I can hire them as part-time clinicians who are paid by the session if that is what I need, but this way we both know we have certain protections in place. The choice, however, is yours.

 

Overview of employee vs. independent contractor

Here are a few quick points concerning the differences between an employee and a contractor.

 

Employees:

  • Typically work full or part time for one or more employers with set work hours and days (which can change week to week in some cases)
  • Have some type of benefits package
  • Have needed parts and supplies furnished by the employer
  • Have taxes taken out of their salary and are eligible for unemployment compensation should work stop
  • Have employment protections, including workers’ compensation
  • Are protected by minimum wage and other labor laws
  • Must have cause to lose their job unless hired “at will”

 

Independent contractors:

  • Provide consulting or other services for a wide range of places
  • Set their hours and days as they see fit
  • Have their own offices independent of their placements, although they may also be given access to an office to use while at their job sites
  • Receive no benefits from the employer
  • Do not have their supplies covered by the employer
  • Do not have taxes taken out by the employer, nor are they covered by workers’ compensation or other policies
  • Have a set contract time period and hours
  • Generally are not protected by employment laws

 

When it can get murky

Years ago, I was a consultant for a local Head Start program. I had a contract that made it clear how much I would be paid per hour, how many hours I was allowed to work during the contract period and the hours the program was open so I could be sure to complete my time within those parameters. For the most part, I came and went as I decided and used my own agency forms for performing tasks. Although I contributed to the organization’s newsletter, I was able to pick the topics and allowed to opt out of an issue if I so desired. To me, this was a classic example of what an independent contractor’s role should be.

A few years later, however, several changes occurred that made my independent contractor status a bit harder to justify. I now had set forms to use, supplied by the agency, and was given less ability to customize how I did my job. I also needed to follow set protocols and several other parameters that I had experienced in the past only as an employee. I opted not to continue the contract after the initial time period, partially because it felt like I got to experience all of the red tape of being an employee without enjoying any of the protections or benefits.

 

The IRS view

The IRS looks into common law to help determine the proper classification of employees. It uses three broad categories in helping to make this determination: behavioral control, financial control and the relationship between the parties. The following is taken directly from the IRS website (see irs.gov/taxtopics/tc762.html):

Behavioral Control covers facts that show if the business has a right to direct and control what work is accomplished and how the work is done, through instructions, training, or other means.

 

Financial Control covers facts that show if the business has a right to direct or control the financial and business aspects of the worker’s job. This includes:

  • The extent to which the worker has unreimbursed business expenses
  • The extent of the worker’s investment in the facilities or tools used in performing services
  • The extent to which the worker makes his or her services available to the relevant market
  • How the business pays the worker, and
  • The extent to which the worker can realize a profit or incur a loss

 

Relationship of the Parties covers facts that show the type of relationship the parties had. This includes:

  • Written contracts describing the relationship the parties intended to create
  • Whether the business provides the worker with employee-type benefits, such as insurance, a pension plan, vacation pay, or sick pay
  • The permanency of the relationship, and
  • The extent to which services performed by the worker are a key aspect of the regular business of the company

 

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As we start the new year and contemplate either adding workers or signing on to an existing agency, it is imperative that we consider the type of position we are becoming associated with and the potential implications from a liability standpoint. Here, as in many other situations, doing a little homework and consulting with knowledgeable professionals can go a long way toward protecting yourself or your nonprofit program.

 

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Sources:

 

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Dr. Warren Corson III

 

“Doc Warren” Corson III is a counselor, educator, writer and the founder, developer, and clinical and executive director of Community Counseling Centers of Central CT Inc. (www.docwarren.org) and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm (www.pillwillop.org). Contact him at docwarren@docwarren.org. Additional resources related to nonprofit design, documentation and related information can be found at docwarren.org/supervisionservices/resourcesforclinicians.html.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

Nonprofit News: Surviving the loss of key members

By “Doc Warren” Corson III November 28, 2016

When counselors look to build a board of directors and fill key positions in their nonprofit programs, it is imperative to remember that there are many different types of leaders.

Some leaders are great thinkers and developers of new ideas and programs but lack the desire to maintain or reconfigure a program once it has taken root. Others are great maintainers but may lack the skills to start a program from scratch or reconfigure an existing program. Still others are best suited to take an existing but lagging program and make it stronger than they found it originally. All of these leaders can serve a program well so long as the timing is right.

When an existing program finds itself in transition naturally, it may discover that certain invaluable board members are less than fully equipped to handle the transition. As a result, the program, or the board member, may seek to open that board position to new blood. This often leads to angst at some level. It is important to note that we are all replaceable; change in and of itself need not be seen as a negative.

Transitions can bring great change. The loss of key board members may indeed bring about changes that are less than ideal. Perhaps the board member had a particular passion or key connections that made a program stand out. The loss of a particular board member may mean the loss of that program, or at least a great reduction to it. This in and of itself can have an impact, but it can also allow the program to find a new niche or direction that may bring about growth that was previously unforeseen. It may also allow the main program to redirect funds to a new program or at the very least allow for some experimentation.

Years ago, we faced the need to expand our offerings because we had outgrown our space. We looked at locations for a second office that would have allowed us to do many of the same things we had already been doing for years, but we ended up finding an 1860s farm for sale about 4 miles from our original location. This purchase allowed us to greatly increase the services we were already offering and also add new types of services.

While we lost the “homey” feel that was characteristic of our first (now secondary) office, we gained a “homey community” feel as part of our therapeutic farm-based program. Now folks feel cozy even though they are in a building that is nearly 8,000 square feet. This was made possible through the many innovations introduced by new board members and key staff changes. At the time there was a great deal of change and transition, but we viewed these as a natural extension of what we always had.

The second and third generation of a board can make or break a program. When change is massive, such as the case of multiple key members leaving at once, this can lead to full-scale dilution of the organization’s main goals or mission. It can even lead to the possible dissolution of the program as a whole. More often than not, however, the loss of board members comes in small doses, and careful replacements can help secure the future of the program with little interruption. Be sure to do a thorough assessment of the program’s needs before selecting potential candidates. The “ideal” candidate may become less than effective if his or her abilities are not in line with the program’s current and emerging needs.

Everyone can be replaced. Panic can set in for some companies upon announcing the impending loss of a founder. Founding board members choose to leave for many reasons, though perhaps the most common reason is their wish to retire. Good leadership on the part of other key players can reduce any major transitional issues, however. Case in point: Albert Ellis,Depositphotos_43929729_m-2015 who developed rational emotive behavior therapy, was removed from the board of directors of the Albert Ellis Institute despite the fact that he founded the institute and it was named after him. In fact, he lived in the building that housed it! Sure, there was some backlash from fans and supporters after he was removed (a New York state Supreme Court judge later reinstated Ellis to the board, saying he had been removed without proper notice). Regardless, since passing away, both Ellis’ institute and his legacy remain intact.

Not all losses are real losses. Every nonprofit program will eventually see the loss of key members. Some of these losses will come as an initial shock, but in many instances, these losses can actually lead to new possibilities, especially if the person had been suffering from burnout or otherwise grown lethargic. New blood can lead to new energy, ideas and improved services.

Stay true to your core mission. It is very important to make sure that new members not only are aware of the history, mission, beliefs and ideals of your nonprofit program, but also appreciate and respect them so that the “original recipe” remains intact (even if some changes are needed to grow with the times). The culture of your nonprofit is key, and it is important that potential new board members are aligned with that culture.

Pay attention to demographic shifts and adjust accordingly. New members or not, it is important to look at demographic shifts and adjust your nonprofit programming as needed. Replacing some key members may actually help you to do this because there may come a time when your leadership team lacks some key knowledge or ability to meet an emergent trend. No one wants to be the company that is caught figuratively stockpiling DVD players in an increasingly wireless world.

Periodic mission adjustments are healthy. Staying true to your mission is healthy, but remember to update that mission on occasion. Transition times may be the perfect opportunity to review and tweak as needed. Examples may include adding different types of programs and increasing the scope (or possibly narrowing the scope) of your operation to reflect current needs and successes.

Replacing key members of your nonprofit need not be a time for strife. Do your homework, remember some key points and move forward. After all, worrying about the loss will do nothing to prevent it, so wouldn’t it be better to simply act proactively?

I’m rooting for you.

 

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Dr. Warren Corson III

Dr. Warren Corson III

“Doc Warren” Corson III is a counselor, educator, writer and the founder, developer, and clinical and executive director of Community Counseling Centers of Central CT Inc. (www.docwarren.org) and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm (www.pillwillop.org). Contact him at docwarren@docwarren.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

Nonprofit News: Building a community on social media

By “Doc Warren” Corson III October 24, 2016

As a guy who doesn’t even use a cellphone, I’m not exactly what many would consider a technology wizard. Still, I make sure to maintain an updated and functioning website and a viable and active social media presence for the charity that I direct. This has helped us not only when it comes to receiving referrals, but also in building a community feel for our programming and growing our volunteer base.

Here are a few guidelines that may help you establish a solid social media presence for your counseling nonprofit.

 

Make your name matter: This is a time to keep things simple and clear. Try to avoid acronyms unless you have a widely known one. Many folks may be familiar with HRC (Human Rights Campaign), WWF (World Wildlife Fund) and NPR (National Public Radio), but chances are good Social Media Logotype Backgroundthat your program isn’t a household name. Our main program is a therapeutic farm that many call the “WIP” for short, but on social media we spell out the name (Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm) so that folks can find it easily.

Having a social media page name that is known and understood only by an inside few is not going to help things grow. Having a clear and concise name can help you pick up random followers and those who are legitimately looking for you without having to possess any inside knowledge of nicknames or the like.

You can also choose to name a specific program that your nonprofit runs as opposed to featuring the main company. We elected not to have much social media coverage of our parent company because it seemed much more limited than our community-based therapeutic farm. We do, however, make it clear that the farm is one of our programs.

Moderate your page and membership: A small percentage of people may want to get into your social media page for all the wrong reasons. Some may want to sell things such as cheap sunglasses, whereas others may want to use it as a platform to go on a political, religious or hate-filled rant. This can kill or greatly reduce your program’s reach and reputation.

Thankfully, it is typically rather simple to keep most of this stuff out by moderating your page. First, set up your page to require permission to join, and then screen these members to make sure they are real. Take a minute to go over their personal pages to ensure they are not spammers. Look for pictures of the person and the types of posts they generally make to help you determine a spammer. In addition, have moderators for your social media page who help ensure that people are staying within established bounds. If things do go beyond what is allowable, be sure to react swiftly and politely.

Establish clear and simple rules: No one wants to belong to a page with a ton of boilerplate rules that need to be read, signed off on and followed to the letter. Instead, pick a few clear and simple rules that help establish group norms. For our program we have three main rules:

  • No religion
  • No politics
  • No negativity or personal attacks

“No religion” does not mean that churches or other spiritually based programs are forbidden from posting. It simply means that no one is allowed to belittle beliefs that differ from their own. In fact, we actively have people on our site who offer to pray for someone going through tough issues, and folks do indeed post events that are being held at local churches, synagogues, etc.

Our “no politics” rule is set up much the same way. Folks can encourage others to vote or register to vote, but they cannot promote a given candidate or party because that is beyond our scope. The “no negativity or personal attacks” rule can be a bit more confusing for some folks because they are allowed to speak about things that are troubling them. However, they are not allowed to personally attack someone or be overly rude when discussing something that is troubling them.

Lead by example: Moderators help set the tone and pace of a page. Ask folks to serve as moderators who are active, positive and have an ability to get and keep people interested. Moderators should make posts consistently without giving page members the sense they are being flooded. For instance, moderators might consider holding back a few of their planned posts if the page has been particularly active.

Encourage communication among members: Encourage your members to post openly and often. Maintain a safe posting environment that leads people to feel that their voice is important and valuable. You will be surprised at the great ideas often posted by the general membership. Your social media page shouldn’t be meant as a place where only a select few people post.

Provide a solid description: A solid description can help folks get a better understanding of your program and the goals of the group. Be clear and help people get to know the program better by offering a few short paragraphs. If your program name is hard for some to pronounce, offer a pronunciation key. Also include the types of services you offer, a word about the setting and whatever else you feel sets your program apart from others. Here is an example:

“Pillwillop (pronounced: pill will up) Therapeutic Farm is a program of Community Counseling Centers of Central CT Inc. (www.docwarren.org; www.pillwillop.org). We provide high-quality, affordable holistic mental health services to the greater central Connecticut area.

“Nature supports healing of all kinds. Within this picturesque setting we offer outpatient therapy, art therapy, therapeutic gardening, hiking, passive recreation and other programs to support mental health and wellness. Nurture in Nature.

“We are a working community in which all members contribute in their own unique ways to the best of their abilities. By taking an active role in the work and the life of a community, people can gain or recapture a sense of self-esteem, self-identity and a sense of purpose that can often become lost in today’s fast-paced, electronic age. By connecting with each other in a natural setting, each member learns more about themselves and the ways they interconnect with the world.”

To advertise or not, that is the question: Some folks set up social media pages and let them grow organically through word-of-mouth, whereas others aim for fast growth through paid advertising. There really is no right or wrong way. However, paid advertising can create somecoffee with foam in like form issues with quality control and monitoring. This is where moderators can really come in handy.

If you do advertise, be realistic in the scope, cost and reach of the advertising plan. If you are a local program with limited reach, a national ad campaign will likely be a waste. Some social media sites offer targeted advertising that can reach particular towns or even certain sections of towns. Think and choose wisely.

Be aware of HIPAA and confidentiality issues: It’s important to remember that while you may be doing your best to build an online community, HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and other confidentiality issues are still in play. Be careful not to ever put any information on the site that is protected or that will identify anyone as a client. Do not ever identify page members as clients, even if they identify themselves as such. You owe it to your clients to maintain their privacy.

Pictures can be posted, but it is best to focus on the program itself and not the people unless 1) the pictures are of a public event that you held, 2) the pictures do not identify anyone as a client AND 3) you have full permission to post the pictures.

Social media can be an effective and free way to help promote your nonprofit program. If you are not currently using it, you really should give it a second thought.

 

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Dr. Warren Corson III

Dr. Warren Corson III

“Doc Warren” Corson III is a counselor, educator, writer and the founder, developer, and clinical and executive director of Community Counseling Centers of Central CT Inc. (www.docwarren.org) and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm (www.pillwillop.org). Contact him at docwarren@docwarren.org.

 

Nonprofit News: Community contacts: Building your program without funding

By “Doc Warren” Corson III September 19, 2016

Many counseling clinicians are working in nonprofit programs with very limited budgets. Some of us are working in programs that utilize a “catch as catch can” approach to funding, meaning there is no working budget. Things are paid based on urgent need and the ability to pay them.

Whatever your situation may be, there is good news. With increased community involvement, you can find many of your budgetary needs reduced. Many times, the resources are out there and we just didn’t realize it.

Getting financial donations for your nonprofit can be difficult (and will be a topic for a later column). But many times, getting much-needed resources can be easier. It typically comes down to one main factor: networking.

Some folks think that to network effectively, you need to know a whole host of CEOs, COOs and the like. This can be helpful for sure. Knowing the folks with the deepest pockets may indeed money1lead to bigger donations (although the few I have known have rarely given anything). But what about the vast majority of us who lack such connections? Does that mean failure for any program we lead?

I spoke to several program leaders, with a focus on programs with gross annual revenues of less than $200,000, to see how they built better programs on so little money. Some of their ideas were impressive, whereas some of their perceptions of being held back were deeply concerning.

Some sought grants from major corporations and other large groups, only to find that they were ineligible for funding because they did not have enough money. Think about that logic for a minute. You are a program that is doing good work, but you cannot be funded because you actually could use the money! This makes little sense to me. Simple math tells me that if a program that does solid work but lacks much of a budget suddenly gets an increase, that increase will likely go directly toward additional services, whereas a program that has millions of dollars in reserves and receives additional money is more likely to bank it or add it to their endowment.

This same rationale can block small programs from contracting with government agencies. This in turn feeds the corporate-minded nonprofits at the expense of the little programs with heart. Fear not though. This system need not prevent you from moving forward.

 

Finding resources

You may be blocked from major grants and contracts, but you are not blocked from creativity. This can make a large difference. Instead of thinking in terms of raising capital, focus on your program’s real-life needs. What actual items could your program benefit from? Who is likely to have these items? How can you get connected to them?

Social media is not the future; it is the now. Have you embraced it? This isn’t meant to suggest that you should limit your social media simply to a series of advertisements, press releases and other boilerplate items. Have you built a community on at least one social media platform? Doing so allows for the free exchange of ideas, challenges, needs and opportunities. It also helps to build a sense of belonging and ownership for the program. When community members feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves, they tend to want to see it grow and thrive. Providing them with the information necessary to encourage change can make all the difference. If they can’t give financially, perhaps these community members can contribute their time and skills.

As a direct result of the community knowing about the items we needed, our program has received such things as volunteer construction, excavation, electrical work, irrigation, engineering, plumbing and related services. Our expanding program has also benefited from donated items including almost 4,000 square feet of new or gently used flooring, construction materials (electrical supplies, lumber, Sheetrock), furniture, equipment and office supplies.

To date, volunteers have constructed about 100 feet of large stone walls, installed hundreds of feet of frost-proof water pipes, built a greenhouse, added more than 1,200 square feet of space by building a third floor on our building, and renovated hundreds of square feet of space, converting it from something of a warehouse feel to community and office spaces. They have also helped with many, many other projects.

These things never would have happened without the right people knowing who we are, what we do and what we needed. In many cases, the right people came to us; we did not need to seek them out.

 

Don’t try to do it alone (and other tips)

The biggest theme I heard from those I spoke to was not trying to do everything yourself. Too many small nonprofit programs find their key people working 60-80 hours per week trying to build the infrastructure. This can result in much getting done in the short term, but it also often leads to burnout, chronic fatigue and a reduction in both creativity and productivity. A chronically overworked staff produces much less over time than does a rested but focused staff. Set reasonable goals, reach out for assistance as appropriate, be patient and watch things grow.

Leadership that leads exclusively from the office will often result in volunteerism diminishing, especially in small programs. Take time away from your administrative and therapeutic jobs to participate in these projects. Let the community see that you are willing to get dirty and get the job done as well as anyone else. Take on some of the hardest, least desirable jobs. This is not a time for photo ops and cherry-picked duties.

At my program, I am the one who periodically empties the composting toilet system. I do it not just to show that I’m unafraid to get dirty but because — being the worst job we have — I do not want to have a volunteer do it. That just doesn’t seem right.

Finally, make sure all this work gets done genuinely. If you do these tasks as a formality or without passion, it can be insulting to the community that is helping you. They are working hard for you without remuneration, so you need to work just as hard.

Building a reputation for being open, honest and approachable can be key. Return emails and phone calls as best you can and as quickly as possible. Be polite and be open to constructive feedback, as well as to ideas for programming that you may not have considered.

If reaching out to others is not in your comfort zone, try to connect with at least a few folks who do feel comfortable taking on that role. This has helped me personally a great deal because I am not comfortable with asking for donations. Although I can sell the benefits of my programming better than anyone, I lack the ability to go in and ask for the help. Surrounding myself with folks who have skills in this area has helped us to get food donated for events and many other things.

Don’t let the programs and policies that block your growth become obstacles to success. If you see programs that will not assist you, take note of them and move on to things that can. Don’t let longshots scare you, but also don’t grow dependent on them.

Two years ago, our small program received one of two $10,000 grants available in the country via a social media campaign. I didn’t count on receiving it. In fact, I thought we had little to no chance of winning it because it was based on weekly voting, and we were going head-to-head with programs that had thousands of supporters. Little did I know that our small group was dedicated enough in weekly voting that we would win. This was a great surprise. But we also focused on more “sure thing” types of small grants as well.

Although cash is key in many ways, donated goods and services can make the difference between success and failure for many nonprofit programs. The good news is that finding available resources is possible for even the least-connected and smallest of programs.

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

 

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Dr. Warren Corson III

Dr. Warren Corson III

“Doc Warren” Corson III is a counselor, educator, writer and the founder, developer, and clinical and executive director of Community Counseling Centers of Central CT Inc. (www.docwarren.org) and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm (www.pillwillop.org). Contact him at docwarren@docwarren.org.