The “Take Action Community Symposium” was sponsored by United Way of Bradley County and the Cleveland State Community College Foundation.
“The purpose of this symposium is for us to present ideas and innovations that can generate thought,” Emily McComb of the Cleveland Action Network said.
McComb said focusing on the difference being made in the community is essential for agency leaders and volunteers to be successful.
“It’s important for us to know first and foremost that what we do, what each of you do, that it does truly matter,” McComb said.
She told the nonprofit and government agencies present to focus on the needs that would remain unmet without them.
“With your eyes closed, picture a community much like the one you serve now, only I would like you to picture it without your organization at work within it,” McComb said. “You’re seeing the void (there would be) if your organization were not working.”
The symposium featured several speakers discussing aspects of nonprofit work.
“I think this is an exciting opportunity for us to come together as a field, as a group of leaders in the community,” United Way of Bradley County President Matt Ryerson said. “The impact (of nonprofits) on the communities that they serve is often misjudged or overlooked.”
He said nonprofits face many challenges. As social media has advanced and changed the way people communicate, many have become distanced from the community needs surrounding them, according to Ryerson.
Other challenges facing non-profit organizations, Ryerson said, are a lack of trained leaders and fewer government grants for which to apply.
He said often a passionate volunteer will rise to director of an organization even if they do not have the skill set needed.
He said real change in a community comes when agencies are strategic and plan based on previous outcomes.
One strategic move for non-profits is working together with other organizations in the community.
“The definition of collaboration should include, at some level, sacrifice on the part of the organization for the greater good,” Ryerson said. “But often one organization in a partnership is doing more than the other.”
Successful collaboration also requires organizations to refrain from shifting responsibility or blame to other organizations in the community, he said.
“We must ... accept that we alone are not the answer, rather we are a part of the solution,” Ryerson said.
J. Adam Lowe, executive director of the CSCC Foundation, said privately funded nonprofits fill the void of community needs that individuals and government programs cannot meet.
Many of the issues faced by private funded nonprofits and philanthropic organizations come down to the main question of who will step up to solve a problem, Lowe said.
He said when government organizations, personal responsibility and nonprofit organizations are balanced meeting the needs of a community, “things tend to function better, there is a higher quality of life, then a community that is heavily waited one direction or another.”
Needs often start on a personal basis, are than addressed in a nonprofit arena, and some become an issue addressed by the government.
Lowe gave public education as an example of this. He said this process is an increased awareness of individuals’ needs by a society.
The event also included community needs assessments presented by those who work with young children, adolescents, adults and families.
Presenters Ron England and Eric Wilbanks focused on elements of nonprofits work and ways that they can run efficiently.
England focused on the need for adequate project management.
Wilbanks addressed how social media has changed the way the community communicates.