As quarantines, shelter-in-place, and social distancing continue to dramatically change the community’s well-being, our nonprofits are struggling to find creative ways to preserve their services and work together for new solutions.
Our last article told about the new collaborative, Joint Effort, which has emerged from this crisis consisting of 18 partner organizations. The good news is that donations have doubled in the last few days. The amount of donations has doubled, reaching $2 million with 660 applications for aid submitted. This is an excellent example of creative collaboration in response to the pandemic.
Today we will look at how one local nonprofit is responding to the crisis by looking at the big picture: the entire Santa Barbara nonprofit sector. When I caught up with Ernesto Paredes, CEO of Easy Lift Transportation, he was in between cheering up his drivers and encouraging his dispatchers.
Juggling is a skill Paredes has perfected—or maybe it’s part of his DNA. His comments during our interview were so insightful that I didn’t want you to miss any of it. Here is what Paredes had to say about the nonprofit sector, Easy Lift, and the coronavirus challenges.
Individual donors and foundations are the life-blood of nonprofits.
Donors are always important to the nonprofit sector. Foundations are especially important because they have the resources to distribute immediately and to make changes in their operations. Now is the time for action. It’s also time to give people the opportunity to support foundations and nonprofits themselves. I’ve been in the nonprofit sector for 30 years.
This is the most challenging of all situations: fires, earthquakes, debris flows, floods–maybe all combined. And it is affecting 100 percent of our community in ways we haven’t seen before. Places where people find comfort are closed: gyms, taverns, houses of worship. We’re all being challenged.
This is an opportunity for nonprofits to be great partners with one another, not stay in our own lane, but serve everyone and do what we do best. It’s a chance for us to really lead our organizations.
Most nonprofits started in the 1970s out of someone’s passion, but after a while, people like us were passed the baton to keep them going. During times of crisis, we can be like our predecessors and redesign our service model. It’s exciting. This is when we get to lean in, not move away.
This is a time to find new ways of providing our services.
It’s time to pivot and to reinvent our mousetrap. For example, Easy Lift is having its reservation staff work remotely. All calls are forwarded to their cell phone and they take appointments so we can still provide rides for people. As a result of this change, we are now asking ourselves: in the future, what size office do we really need? If we can cut our rent in half, for example, we can use the funds to provide more services for our clients.
This pandemic is really affecting our staff. We have some drivers over 65 years old who are concerned about their health. We are allowing these drivers to take their vans home so they start their day from their driveway. Others who have young children are concerned about the lack of daycare. So we are letting these dispatchers and reservationists work from home. This way they won’t lose their paycheck and our frail seniors will receive the basic services they need.
The business community has been great by helping us continue to deliver our critical services. For example:
- Big Green Cleaning Company and Goleta Car Wash sanitize and clean our vehicles
- Chevron keeps our vehicles on the road
- South Coast Deli provides box lunches so we can give free lunches to our staff
- Impulse Communications gave us the technology to let us work remotely
Don’t forget to engage the valuable services of your board of directors.
It’s important for nonprofits to keep your boards involved and informed. This is a time to lean into your board. Each board member has their own expertise. So organizations with diverse board members can really benefit. Thankfully, we have a board that had the foresight to create a financial reserve for “rainy days” and this the biggest I’ve seen in 30 years.
When asked by foundations and donors what we need, we must be clear, be honest, and ask for what we truly need. Think about some of your partnering organizations and how they have shared in your success. We can’t do this by ourselves.
Even with reduced demand, we can deliver quality service.
We have had a drop off in ridership, especially from riders who used to go to recreation activities. But we still provide rides for essential services like cancer and dialysis treatments and food pick up. We’ve dispatched our drivers to work directly with the Foodbank to deliver food directly to organizations and homes, countywide. This is an example of good working relationships with brother and sister organizations. Trusting one another is essential to our overall success.
We are communicating better than ever with fellow nonprofits, county and city government, businesses, and foundations. We are in a much better place for success today because of it. Also, coordination by the Office of Emergency Management and VOAD is so important.
Let others help give you a fresh perspective on your work.
Local foundations, including the Women’s Fund, asked us questions in interviews that we don’t always think of. This makes organizations stronger and better equipped to handle disasters like this. Direct Relief is one of the best leaders and they are right in our backyard. They are a great model for us to see what success looks like.
Those of us in the nonprofit sector truly respect and like each other, which allows us to do more things for the community.