“Community-Based”: What This Means to us

Jim Roberts, CEO
April, 26, 2016 -

It is interesting how we evolve in our thinking—I like to believe it just gets better the older we get. For nearly 30 years now I have been at the helm of a “Nonprofit” organization, a term which certainly elicits a multiplicity of responses, not all of which are positive. The fact is, I don’t like the term “nonprofit.” When I was working on my graduate degree in business administration, the vogue terminology was “Third-Sector” organizations, in which I specialized. I’m sure you all know what that means, but just in case you forgot, it is simply the economic sector consisting of non-governmental organizations and other non-profit organizations. For many years, I chose to refer to our industry as “Not-for-Profit,” a more apt description, but, honestly, I really don’t like this term either.

The Family Care Network is legally a nonprofit or not-for-profit organization; but in reality, we are a Community-Based Organization. The following explains why.

As I mentioned, the term Nonprofit is woefully misunderstood and often viewed negatively. In many people’s minds, nonprofit is synonymous with poor; you know—always begging! I have actually had people ask me, “How come you have money in the bank if you are a nonprofit?” Let’s clear that up right now. Nonprofit organizations are organized by law to provide a public benefit or philanthropic endeavor, and not to make a profit for an individual or group of individuals as does a regular corporation. NPs don’t sell stock. But, not-for-profit companies can make money, (i.e., take in more income than they spend), but that “excess,” or profit in the business vernacular, can only be used to further the mission of that organization.

The public receives a tax benefit for supporting a not-for-profit organization based on the premise that those funds are being used for a public benefit that might otherwise be paid for by the government. Unfortunately, there are some egregious abuses which occur, (i.e., churches that own jets, exorbitant staff salaries, condos in exotic places, etc.) which are all passed off as “legitimate expenses.” But you know it’s a greed thing!

There is a big difference between a nonprofit and a Community-Based Organization. Granted, there are thousands of really competent, well-managed, public-serving nonprofits ranging from the very tiny, single-focused organization to mega-nonprofits like the United Way, the Salvation Army and Feeding America. A Community-Based Organization is an extension and expression of a community to meet its indigenous needs. There are many nonprofits which exist and serve within a community, but they are not of the community. Numerous nonprofits exist in every community but have very little connection to it. These agencies solicit funds to do good works, but they are driven by forces outside the community; and in most cases, a portion of locally generated revenue goes back to their mother ship!

From our very inception, the Family Care Network was created as a Community-Based Organization as our mission statement clearly states: “To enhance the wellbeing of children and families, in partnership with our community.” I have been queried by dozens of my peers over the years as to how we have accomplished our amazing successes. The simple answer: community integration and partnerships. Unfortunately, there is a trap which many well intended nonprofits fall into, the notion that “bigger is better.” I vehemently disagree. The larger an organization grows, the less it reflects the communities it serves, it loses essential attributes necessary for a high degree of success and sacrifices quality at the expense of capacity.

As a CBO, Family Care Network’s governance is all community generated. Our Board of Directors represents the unique communities we serve. These include individuals who have a vested interest, not only in the mission of our organization, but in the wellbeing and quality of life of the Central Coast. Our Board starts a chain of networking and connection with our community. Additionally, our Executive and Management staff are local folks as well, many having been raised on the Central Coast, and they are all committed to helping the less fortunate in our community. We also invite community members to participate in our annual Strategic Planning process—again, focusing on how best to meet local community needs.

Being Community-Based, our organization provides many, many opportunities for the community to partner with us in serving our community’s needs. In the last five years alone, several thousand individuals donated over 77,000 hours of volunteer service to us! Employees, Resource Parents, mentors, tutors, reading specialists, event helpers, donors and so many more individuals add incredible depth and dimension to our ability to serve children, youth and families, which in turn significantly improves our success outcomes. One of our valued “Best Practices” is to connect our clients with community-based resources to break cycles of system-dependency. We really have become a diverse “Network” of individuals, organizations and businesses working together for the good of our community.

An essential element of an effective CBO is collaborating to address indigenous, local needs. The Family Care Network has always taken this approach. Before I even started the Family Care Network, I began to work with County leaders to determine how we could best meet local needs. Over the years, we have built upon this model, creating amazing partnerships to develop effective solutions to local problems. FCNI was one of the founding members of the San Luis Obispo Children’s Services Network Council (CSN) which has an incredible track record of generating strategies, programs, services and funding necessary to effectively serve our community. Every one of the Family Care Network’s 20 programs consist of multi-agency partnerships birthed under the CSN umbrella. This type of cross-agency collaboration is the quintessential of Community-Based services!

As a Community-Based Organization, we contribute to the local economy. We buy local goods and services, we use local insurance brokers and vendors, and, we conduct regional or statewide conferences which brings people to our area. Over the years, we have secured millions of grant dollars from outside the area to purchase housing units or for program operating support; again, all being folded back into our local economy. Annually, we pay about $8.5M in payroll which of course gets spent right here on the Central Coast. Equally as important, we have assisted thousands of youth and families in becoming self-sufficient, contributing members of our community—no longer consumers of public funds!

The Family Care Network was born on the Central Coast and we exclusively serve our communities. We are embedded within the community and the community is embedded within us. Our community gives us input, advice, direction and partnerships, and in return, we provide the very best programs and services possible to meet local needs. Our community gives the Family Care Network time, money, resources and support, and together we all work hard to “enhance the wellbeing of children and families…” The Family Care Network is proud to be your Community-Based organization!