Tag Archives: Nonprofit News

Nonprofit News: Preparing for your successor starts with the founding of your program

By “Doc Warren” Corson III September 25, 2017

Most of us have seen it happen. The founder of a nonprofit program retires or dies after decades of dedicated service and sacrifice, and their life’s work turns to shambles in no time because of drastic changes made by those who replace them.

Sometimes it starts subtly, with a tweak or two to the mission statement. Other times it’s like a battering ram and might include the sale of once vital property, the handing over of the nonprofit to a larger program, the abandonment of core values and missions or the dissolving of the program altogether.

In other cases, the driving force behind a nonprofit is neither the board of directors nor even the founder(s) but rather one or two key members of the program. Once they have gone, the heart and possibly the soul of the program goes with them.

This does not need to happen, however. In this article, I’d like to offer some key ways to ensure a positive outcome once you are gone from your nonprofit program. It is NEVER too early to plan for your departure. In fact, in the program I founded, that planning started in the design stage, far before the first client arrived, before the location was selected and while the writing of our bylaws and other founding documents was taking place.

Be clear about your mission and direction. When training new staff and board members, use your mission and direction plans as the framework for every major decision. Otherwise, the mission statement is little more than something that is written in the founding documentation and then forgotten. When new programming is suggested, discuss how it would further the mission (or not). Make your short-, mid- and long-term direction clear. The best way to ensure a smooth transition is by educating your workers thoroughly while you are still active in your nonprofit program.

Select board members who love your program and what it has become but who are not afraid to challenge you. Find folks who share your passion but not ones who will follow you without question. This is not a place for sycophants. As the director of a counseling-based nonprofit, you will be challenged during discussions and you will likely lose a vote from time to time. That is a good thing, so long as it is productive.

Beware, however, of board members who might say, “I never really got what the founders wanted. It just didn’t make sense. But I took the position because it was good for my career.” Once these folks take charge, your program may never be the same.

I once spoke with a person put in charge of a low-income housing program who said he never understood why the program owned property. He set about divesting the program of ALL of its real-estate holdings “with the understanding that the new for-profit owners would keep costs affordable for all income levels.” Since its incorporation, the foundation of the program had been the acquisition, development and maintenance of property for the express purpose of providing quality low-income rental units. In short order, this person transformed “his” program into little more than an advocacy program, which was far removed from what the founders had envisioned. If there had been a stronger board of directors that possessed a working knowledge of the founders’ goals, this scenario easily could have been prevented.

Teach your secrets to others. Are you able to negotiate better deals with certain companies than others could due to knowing more about that company’s preferences and style? If so, how do you do it? Do you know something that others might miss? Perhaps that that company requires a softer hand or more direct involvement? Whatever the case may be, if you have a secret, share it with your valued staff.

I often am called into negotiations of various types, such as when there are issues between two entities that have shared programming or to help prevent rifts between individuals or programs that could lead to legal issues or formal contract disputes. The hope is that I can bridge the gaps. Most times, I can, although some cases do indeed lead to court or other less-than-positive situations. Whatever the outcome, I always try to sit with key members of my program to go over the case study so that we can see what worked, what didn’t work and how it all turned out.

Don’t make yourself out to be the superhero; share your knowledge. Sometimes it comes down to a little observation such as “I noticed from the way that someone in the negotiations held themselves that they likely would not do well with an authoritarian approach, so I approached them as equals and asked them rather than told them how they could assist.”

By teaching your team not just the how and why of your process but also the what (What led you to this decision? What data was important? What cues do you consider important?), you can help them replicate it far into the future. This is key so that if they ever are called into a situation such as this in the future, they will have a leg up in the process due to the added insight from this experience. At times, the “student” in this situation can become the teacher because he or she may see a possibility that I missed. Either way, this process assists our entire program because of the shared knowledge. Although it’s great to feel important and to be the “go to” member of your team, it is better to help foster an environment in which the whole team becomes “go to” people. And it’s all the better if they come to emulate your style so that once you are gone, your flavor will remain.

Nurture your employees and volunteers. Show them they are vital and appreciated; don’t just provide lip service. What makes them important? What skills do they want to build? Find out and try to put them in positions where they can gain them. What do they prefer to do? Find out and try to match the needs of the program with your employees’ and volunteers’ skills and passions. When they fail, be kind and offer guidance and a shoulder as needed. The more ownership they feel in the program, the better.

Speak of future plans now. Don’t keep things a safely guarded secret. Put your dreams and goals out there. The more folks that know, the better. Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm is a direct result of me making it known to anybody who would listen that I wanted land for passive recreation for our community. It started with an offer from a lodge brother who heard about my plan and said he would let his property be used via parking passes. From there, it led to a lease and purchase. The property never was put on the market, and without me sharing my vision with others, we would never have known about it. Many things happen like this in business on a regular basis, so make your dreams known.

Don’t allow yourself to become indispensable. We’ve all seen it. An enigmatic leader appears to be able to pull off just about anything he or she attempts, often where others have failed. No one else, it seems, can do what this leader does. This is great while the leader is there, but it can be disastrous when they are gone.

Teach folks how you do what you do. Nurture them and guide them while you can so that when you are gone, they can take over in a smooth transition. In many cases, the secret is easy. When a leader was asked how victory was achieved where so many others had failed, the leader responded, “I looked at each failure to determine why I thought it failed, then compiled all the data and took a path that no one else had. Using the failures as a way to eliminate possible paths provided me with the one most likely to succeed.” The leader then gave concrete examples that were invaluable.

Don’t overreach or overspend. We often have grand goals, which is fine. But keep the bottom line in mind and be realistic. Many nonprofit programs fail because when the new guard comes in, they find that the old guard left the program with a pile of debt or discover that the work the program is doing has become so diluted as to make it tasteless.

If you want a smooth transition, leave a firm foundation. This includes a healthy debt-to-income ratio (my program has only one line of credit, which is our mortgage), equity in your properties should you ever be forced to take out credit (we had about 55 percent equity at closing) and realistic growth. Although we have built our main program slower than projected (we have about half of our building remodeled, whereas we had hoped to have it all redone), we have done so without a line of credit or debt, which leaves us in a very strong position.

Delegate, empower and cross-train. Don’t do it all yourself. You can delegate duties, monitor, guide and lead, but to succeed, you will need a solid team. Teach folks not only their job but the jobs of others so that should an emergency arise, you will have backups. This happened to us recently when we lost a key member of our staff temporarily due to illness. Because we were cross-trained, we possess the capability of getting the job done, at least minimally, while waiting for our team member’s return. We all are doing a bit more than normal, but thanks to the cross-training, it is working.

Use the “decade rule.” It has been said that it takes a decade to properly train your replacement as a leader. If everything ran smoothly, you could wait until 10 years prior to your planned retirement to train your replacement. But since we do not know how our health, the job market and countless other factors will be that can impact our ability and desire to work, it is a good practice to have training in place sooner rather than later. Through training, delegating, setting a good foundation and following other best practices, you are allowing yourself the decade required to allow your successor to learn the ropes well.

If you want a solid course for the future, leave a solid program when you exit.

 

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Nonprofit News looks at issues that are of interest to counselor clinicians, with a focus on those who are working in nonprofit settings.

 

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: Writing a mission statement

By “Doc Warren” Corson III August 28, 2017

Many counselor clinicians contact me in a panic over writing a mission statement (which includes a purpose section) as part of applying for federal recognition as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation (tax-exempt). Although this can indeed be scary, it needn’t be overly confusing.

The IRS page at the time of this writing gives the basic parameters for this status. Please note that you do NOT have to meet all of these requirements.

“The exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3) are charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals. The term charitable is used in its generally accepted legal sense and includes relief of the poor, the distressed, or the underprivileged; advancement of religion; advancement of education or science; erecting or maintaining public buildings, monuments, or works; lessening the burdens of government; lessening neighborhood tensions; eliminating prejudice and discrimination; defending human and civil rights secured by law; and combating community deterioration and juvenile delinquency.”

In short, what public good are you going to provide? Let’s face it. If the NFL was able to go so long as a tax-exempt organization (it announced it was voluntarily going to give its status up after an outcry on social media), your therapeutic program has a great chance of qualifying, provided that you do more than simply offer the occasional sliding fee for a client. A solid mission statement and purpose can mean so much in terms of a successful application. Give it some thought, explore examples and write multiple drafts before submitting.

 

What is your mission?

Think of your mission statement as the rudder of the ship you will be traveling on. It helps maintain control and direction and limit the scope of the trip you are taking. The mission statement is your chance to give a clear definition of what you are seeking to accomplish as a nonprofit.

Although the mission statement can be adjusted as needed, much like the rudder, it is typically adjusted slowly so as not to upend what you have been doing. Maintaining balance is key, especially in a rough sea. For instance, when my charity was founded, our main stated mission was to give equal and open access to behaviorally based therapeutic counseling services regardless of ability to pay. As we progressed and expanded not only our physical size but also our staffing, we incorporated additional services and periodically made adjustments to our mission statement.

It is vital to craft a mission statement that clearly states what you aim to do while also keeping in mind that you need to meet certain criteria to become a 501(c)(3). More information is available at https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/charitable-organizations/exemption-requirements-section-501-c-3-organizations.

 

What is your purpose?

Don’t worry if your mission statement fails to capture everything you are going to do as a charity. You will also be required to clearly state the purpose of the corporation (nonprofits are corporations in the eyes of the law and, as such, are owned by no one person or group; in effect, they own themselves).

There is no need to be overly wordy or excessive in this section. Simply state the main goals of your organization. For clinical programs, you might state the type of clinical programming you will offer and identify the population(s) served, the general services that will benefit the community, associated educational opportunities and related programming. It is wise to include a “catch-all” purpose as well (see No. 5 below).

 

Example of a mission statement and purpose

The mission of Community Counseling Center of Central Connecticut Inc. is to provide a holistic program that addresses the therapeutic, cultural, occupational and cultural needs of those we serve in a nature-based setting.

 

Purpose of the Corporation

The purposes, for which the Corporation is formed, as set forth in its Certificate of Incorporation, are:

To conduct the following activities, which are exclusively charitable, educational and scientific within the meaning of Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended, including:

  1. To provide the highest quality behaviorally based therapuetic outpatient services to individuals, couples, children and adolescents in the most caring environment possible.
  2. To provide means for clients to share experiences, support one another, and improve their care.
  3. To provide outreach services to raise awareness to the needs of the community, the benefits of mental health treatment as well as to aid in the decrease in the stigmatization that those who receive mental health services sometimes endure.
  4. To provide presentations, workshops, lecture series and trainings in areas that relate to the work, goals and needs of the clients served and professionals who work in the mental health.
  5. To engage in any other activity which will further the interests of individuals served and or targeted by the corporation, their families, or professionals treating individuals with mental health issues and related disorders or engaging in research about mental health and related disorders.
  6. To acquire, maintain and preserve open space, woodlands and related properties in order to provide a means for holistic programming and educational activities as well as passive recreation*. (Added 1-1-2015)

* For land use, passive recreation connotes activities that have little to no impact on the land.

 

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The mission statement and purpose of the corporation are among the hardest items to be included in the formation of your bylaws, which are the very heart of any nonprofit. As we’ve just explored, however, it is far less difficult to write these elements than you may have imagined.

 

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This article should not be viewed as all-inclusive or as a substitute for working with trained professionals.

 

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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: Would the Founding Fathers have supported nonprofits and nationalized health care?

By “Doc Warren” Corson III July 24, 2017

I’ve heard a lot about the Founding Fathers the past few years, and given that we celebrate American independence in July, I thought it would be fitting to explore what they might have thought about this work of ours as counselors working in the nonprofit space.

There are many theories about what our Founding Fathers would say or do nowadays. Some of these theories are fascinating, while others appear to be little more than fiction, but at least they appear to attempt to look back at our nation’s founding to find guidance for our present and future.

I don’t claim to know what the founders wanted, especially as it relates to mental health care, which was poorly understood at the time. In fact, if poor mental health resulted in someone straying a little too far from the societal norms of the day, that person ran the risk of being accused of demonic possession. I mean, physical health care at the time promoted bloodletting and the use of leeches (which have seen a limited return in recent years), so in many ways, our Founding Fathers were living in primitive times. Still, they set about developing a living, breathing set of documents that they hoped would transcend time and grow with the needs of those they served.

One of the key phrases in the Declaration of Independence calls for the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Could it not be argued then that the Founding Fathers would support any enterprise, public or private, that seeks to help ensure everyone’s right to a quality life and the ability to live freely and happily (so long as it does not legitimately impinge on another’s right)? Would health care not be a vital part of a right to life and liberty?

Think about this for a minute. If one has a right to life, one surely must have a right to health because, without health, life cannot sustain itself for long, not while also including liberty. One cannot be at liberty if he or she is needlessly allowed to become and remain infirm until death.

If we have a right to life, is that right confined only to those who possess an endless ability to pay for it? Should it be? As of 2009, 58 countries had some sort of national health care system in place, meaning that all of their citizens had access to health care regardless of income, status and so on. As wise as the Founding Fathers were, surely they would welcome such an endeavor, right?

This conclusion can of course be argued. In fact, unless we have some kind of message from at least one of the Founding Fathers related to this, it remains little more than conjecture. Thankfully, with just a small bit of research, I found several such messages. Although other founders may have spoken along the same lines, I decided to end my search after the first three attempts proved fruitful.

Thomas Jefferson dedicated at least part of his life to the improvement of health care. From 1784-1789, he worked on a committee to reform the public health care system in Paris. He was also a friend of the Marquis de Condorcet, who among other things proposed national health care. This in and of itself looks promising in the support of publically supported systems, although I could not find anything where Jefferson actually supported such a system in America (honestly, I spent very little time trying, however).

Thomas Paine, the author of Common Sense, was an inspirational figure in the United States’ move for independence from Britain. In another of his works titled Agrarian Justice, he wrote about what could be termed social security or a safety net. He proposed that men, starting at age 21, should be given 15 pounds sterling, whereas any man 50 or older would be given 10 pounds yearly. This would be paid for by what essentially would be a tax on land. This money would go to qualified individuals, regardless of income or health. He stated that he felt it was a right, not a charity.

Here we have one of the most influential figures in the founding of America talking about the need for a shared system of support for all male citizens. (In Paine’s time, women were seen as needing the support of men in order to live. Support to men would also support their families. Thankfully, we have progressed). This money was to go to support the needs of the man as he saw fit. It’s reasonable to assume that this would include such things as food, shelter, clothing and health care.

John Adams perhaps said it best in the Constitution of Massachusetts (article VII) in 1780:

“Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity and happiness of the people; and not for the profit, honor or private interest of any one man, family or class of men: Therefore the people alone have an incontestable, unalienable and indefeasible right to institute government; and to reform, alter or totally change the same, when their protection, safety, prosperity and happiness require it.”

Adams called for government to be concerned with all men of any class and for the need to alter or reform laws when required. As time moves forward, needs and priorities change. Hopefully, with these changes come increased insight and understanding. For instance, as we discovered the cause of certain illnesses, we started to learn how to treat them. Prevention and treatment went hand in hand in many ways. Soon a new school of thought emerged and with it, the modern idea of medicine (including mental health care).

Because of the space constraints of this column, I did not delve into other Founding Fathers, but I hope that someone else does and adds to this discussion. Based solely on my reading of the Declaration of Independence and other related documents, my bet is that the Founding Fathers would have supported the notion that this country was set up to be a commonwealth — one that shares its good fortune and prosperity with all within its borders — because they seemed to understand fully that the longevity of any endeavor is dependent on investment in its infrastructure.

 

I have a humble suggestion the next time that someone questions the importance of your, or any other, counseling nonprofit and its role in helping the citizens of this great country of ours. Simply say, “If Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine and John Adams felt it was important for the government and its people to help one another, who am I to argue?”

Nonprofits: Real people, real change.

 

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C.

 

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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: Becoming the leader you always wanted

By “Doc Warren” Corson III June 26, 2017

It is unlikely that you have always been in a leadership role unless you were born into millions of dollars (and even then, working your way up should have been part of the plan). If you were like me, you worked in just about every position before taking the helm.

I was a volunteer, a janitor, a mentor, a case manager, a mental health worker, an intern and several other positions before I became a lead, a supervisor or a director. In those roles, I witnessed many different types of leadership, running the gamut from totally incompetent to ill-informed to sheer brilliance. Everyone who was in a position of leadership over me inspired me to do my best to lead by example, even when they did little more than show me how not to act.

 

Know the job you are overseeing

Whether you are the boss or a consultant, it is very important to know and understand the jobs you are overseeing. This doesn’t mean that you need to know all the passwords, program languages, software, etc. Rather, it means possessing a good understanding of how they work, how long and how hard the tasks are, and the many facets involved in doing the job well.

Once you have that understanding, your leadership skills can and often will enable you to find ways to make the process a bit easier while ensuring the same (or even better) quality. It also helps with face validity — in this case meaning that folks can see, from simply watching you, that you know what you’re doing and what needs to be done. This can improve employees’ morale and overall outlook.

 

Remember what it felt like when you weren’t in control

As you climb the ladder, remember how it felt when you were at or near the bottom of an organization. How did your bosses address you? How did it make you feel? Were you able to give input, be productive, make decisions and feel vital? Would you have preferred to have been treated differently? In what way? Do what you can to give those who report to you the treatment you wanted yourself.

 

Empower and encourage those on your team

Remember your training in industrial psychology. A happy employee is a good and productive employee. Empower those on your team as much as possible to make some level of decisions. Encourage them to think for themselves while staying within the bounds that you set. You just may find that the bottom rungs of the ladder have more insight into your organization’s problems than do those with unobstructed views.

 

Give everyone a voice and an ear

If the size and scope of your nonprofit program make it realistic, have all-staff meetings whenever possible. Set the stage to welcome thoughts, concerns and ideas from all staff, not just clinical staff. Pose concerns and challenges to your workers and allow them to brainstorm. Most important, LISTEN.

I once worked at a charity that had all-staff meetings periodically. The boss would pose challenges and allow for input. She did seem to give much more weight to those in higher positions and higher educational levels, however. Once, the janitor gave his thoughts on a problem, and the boss quickly dismissed it. I waited a few minutes, started talking and used a few big words to explain “my” thoughts on solving the problem. The boss loved it and immediately implemented it. But it was the janitor’s plan exactly! I had simply dressed it up with professional buzzwords.

Once the boss announced the implementation of the idea, I publically thanked the janitor for his idea. The boss corrected me and said my idea was much better. I explained that I had simply dressed the janitor’s plan in “important buzzwords” and said that we should never get caught up with big words, big job titles or big education: A good idea was a good idea. After she refused to acknowledge him as the creator, I apologized to him for the agency’s lack of vision. (On a separate note, I do not recommend doing this because it could have led to me being found to be insubordinate.)

 

Provide leadership by example

Remember the old maxim that good bosses will never ask an employee to do something that they wouldn’t do themselves. There may be exceptions, but these exceptions should be based on skillsets and not because certain tasks are deemed “beneath” them. For instance, I will never perform open-heart surgery, climb to the top of a tower to fix a transmission line or take on other tasks I am not qualified to perform, but I will get my hands dirty. If it needs to be done and we are understaffed, I will take out the trash, fix a broken pipe, work in a trench or even build an office, complete with running the electrical, insulation, sheetrock and framing.

When things get tough, it can motivate folks to see those in positions of power working directly alongside them. But again, stay within your competencies. I wouldn’t have engaged in any of the jobs mentioned above had I lacked basic knowledge and skills in those areas.

 

Maintain an open-door policy

When employees and volunteers feel welcome to interact with you, work gets done. Even though you are busy, establish an atmosphere that calls for inclusion and fellowship. Invite folks in to talk when you can, solicit their opinions and make sincere small talk.

 

Be prepared to get dirty

As stated earlier, be prepared to go outside your job description. Years ago, in addition to taking part in nonclinical projects, I organized an ice cream social for our staff and volunteers. Our senior staff set up the event, served the ice cream and then cleaned up afterward. This was a small way of showing our staff and volunteers that we cared about them, valued them and wanted to treat them. Although some of our senior staff refused to take part, the majority played a role. Those who did noted a marked increase in positive interactions with other staff members.

 

Be real

One of my pet peeves is when senior staff members pretend that they are always the boss, even in the real world. If their garbage cans need emptying, their toner gets low or they need something from the supply cabinet, they call someone in to do it for them. I’m pretty sure that most if not all of them have had to take out the trash at home or go to the pantry to get some supplies. If you’re going to be a leader, be real. If you want self-sufficiency from your staff, show some in your own life.

 

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Life can be hard, and leadership is not easy, especially when you are working on a shoestring budget. But a few commonsense techniques can do much to shape your nonprofit program. Make the decision to be the leader you always wanted.

 

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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: Edible ‘offices’: Adding beauty to your program while helping the hungry

By “Doc Warren” Corson III May 26, 2017

Multitasking is a way of life for many of us, although it would appear that with ever-shrinking budgets, counselors in nonprofit settings have made a true art of it. We can no longer afford to do something that only covers one area. Instead we need to reach deeper to do more with less.

Thankfully, there is a way to mix therapy, education, recreation, nature, beautification, nutrition and holistic health — planting a vegetable garden. The best part? The effort requires little in the way of money for startup and even less in future years.

 

What is needed

  • South-facing areas: windows, pathways, greenways (anyplace that gets direct sunlight daily)
  • Access to water
  • Planting space: garden areas, pots, planters or anything that can hold soil and seeds. Be creative. We once used a windowsill and gallon milk jugs with the tops cut off.
  • Basic tools: Depending on the size and scope of the project, you might need common gardening tools or nothing more than the ability to open a bag of soil. For larger areas, you will want a hoe, garden shovel, watering can or garden hose, and clippers.
  • Seeds
  • Fertilizer
  • Storage area for tools, supplies and vegetables
  • Patience

 

How it’s done

All you need is a basic desire to plant and grow vegetables. If you use non-GMO (genetically modified organism) and nonhybrid seeds, you can collect seeds from the vegetables you grow for use in future planting. This allows for minimal startup and sustainability costs. (Note: GMO seeds can be controversial, and at times you are not allowed to collect and save the seeds because of arcane laws. Hybrid seeds are poor choices for saving because they are made from a blend of plants, and the resulting seeds are unpredictable.) If space allows, you can compost any nonedible or spoiled greens. Reusing this compost limits the need to purchase supplemental fertilizers.

Starting the program can take many paths. It can involve simply recruiting a few interested staff members, or it can involve putting out a call to the community (including those whom your nonprofit serves) to look for volunteers. I recommend having a key point person to supply basic information to interested participants. This includes educating them on how this effort ties into positive mental and physical health. The point person will also provide basic training.

Have folks commit to an activity either on a one-time basis or as an ongoing chore. A feeling of ownership will help develop their sense of belonging to the greater community. It can also help to build self-esteem, responsibility and confidence.

 

What to do with the products

Some nonprofits sell the vegetables they grow as a fundraiser. Others simply share the vegetables with those who participated in the project, and still others share with the volunteers and with the greater community. There is no right answer.

 

Case study

Here at Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm, we elected to go big with our community growing program by making field areas open to volunteers. The idea was that we could educate on nutrition, share what is harvested with volunteers and those in need, and add a small “take what you need, leave what you can” farm stand.

The first few years were marked with both successes and challenges (broccoli remains my greatest foe, as we have yet to have any real success with it). Starting with a few shovels in the dirt and water collected by hand from a nearby brook, we regularly invested in programming as possible. Applying for competitive grants and other income resources led to a $10,000 “Seeds of Change” grant, as well as other grants, which enabled us to expand our offerings greatly.

We invested thousands of dollars and thousands of man-hours to build infrastructure such as year-round water access to some fields, seasonal access to others and drip irrigation with timers to help preserve water and reduce labor. We also built two large greenhouses (“seasonal high tunnels” in government nomenclature), complete with lights, power outlets and several ADA-compliant planting beds.

We put periodic calls out for volunteers and tried to have volunteers take on leadership roles whenever possible. By modifying our planting processes, we were able to include those who are normally excluded from such programming, including older adults, those with disabilities and those who have allergies to the sun (lighting allows for nighttime planting, care and harvesting). The greenhouses, though unheated, allow for nine to 10 months of garden programming in our area of New England. In fact, April marked our first opportunity of the year to harvest cold-weather crops. We have had limited harvesting go into December.

All told, we have received very positive feedback from volunteers and the community at large. We have helped provide high-quality organic food to those who otherwise would not have access to it and have helped inspire other programs and individuals to start pocket-garden centers and personal plots. We have also seen the emergence of a real community where once there was only unused land.

 

Results

Results will vary of course, but with a little effort, some time, minimal money and community involvement, you may find that adding beauty to your nonprofit counseling program will not only help the hungry but also fill a need in your program and community.

My advice? Start as small as you need. A few cups on a windowsill in an inner-city office might lead to a rooftop garden or other community garden program.

 

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Here are some links to gardening resources for those who are interested:

  • seedsofchange.com — We have used this company’s seeds and were fortunate to win a competitive grant from them. They appear to be very community minded, and their prices are fair.
  • seedsavers.org — We just discovered this company, and this is our first year using their seeds. We were very impressed with their commitment to seed saving and promoting education on seed saving and gardening practices. You would think that educating about and promoting seed saving would be contrary to a company that sells seeds, and it is, but their greater mission is to help folks be self-sufficient and to also promote education, gardening etc.
  • johnnyseeds.com — I haven’t ordered from this company myself because I already had sources, but many of our garden friends swear by them and the quality of their seeds.
  • reimerseeds.com — I have read some negative reviews online, but in the three or so years that we have ordered tomato seeds from this company, we have had nothing but good experiences. They came highly recommended by a local commercial gardener.

This list is not meant to be exhaustive, nor is it an endorsement. There are many other great seed companies out there. It is important to explore seeds and companies to see what works best for you in terms of customer service and results in your particular environment and soil type.

 

 

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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.