Consultancy program works with nonprofits through COVID-19 challenges | Local News
MANKATO — As Mankato nonprofits worked to find stable footing going into year three of the COVID-19 pandemic, a consultant program launched to lend them a hand.
The consultant in residency program sprang up in late 2021 out of the Greater Mankato Area United Way and Mankato Area Foundation’s COVID-19 community response fund.
Whether nonprofits were looking to restructure their delivery models, dealing with staffing shortages, worried about an upcoming capital campaign, or encountering other challenges brought on by the pandemic, the idea behind the program is they don’t have to take it all on alone.
Through the program, nonprofits sign up for free consulting services with Kim Snyder in the forms of initial office hours followed by a 10-hour residency. Snyder, founder of Excelsior Bay Group, has 25 years of experience working with philanthropic communities in the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota, including working with Mankato Area Foundation President and CEO Nancy Zallek.
“It’s been incredibly rewarding for me,” Snyder said of her work with about 20 local nonprofits since October. “I feel like we’re actually doing good things for these organizations and moving toward some greater good of the collective.”
The program arrived during a time of heightened challenges for nonprofits brought on by the pandemic. COVID-19 forced many nonprofits to drastically change or curtail their delivery models, straining their funding and staffing levels.
The pandemic made in-person fundraisers harder to plan, adding to the woes.
Mankato nonprofits have done and continue to do great work through it all, Snyder said. In conditions like those, though, the focus will often be on getting through the next day, week or month rather than taking a big-picture outlook.
“It’s something they can’t do on their own, not because they’re not smart enough and not willing, but because especially right now they’re struggling with staffing and being under-resourced,” she said.
Maybe they need a sounding board for their ideas. Snyder’s role in those instances takes the form of listening and offering suggestions on what direction they could go.
Maybe they need an outside, neutral perspective on an issue. While Snyder isn’t an outsider to the nonprofit world, coming from outside the Mankato area gives her different experiences to draw from.
That perspective proved valuable for the Blue Earth County Historical Society, said Jessica Potter, executive director.
“It’s somebody who understands how nonprofits work, understands our language, understands our needs,” she said. “We have a pretty good network of nonprofits in town, but it’s nice to have somebody who’s outside of the picture too.”
The historical society had plenty going on in late 2021 and early 2022. A fundraiser to support an expansion project was in full swing.
At the same time, Potter said the nonprofit had a goal to reevaluate staffing needs. A staff person was leaving, prompting a need to explore how best to allocate staffing heading into an exciting new chapter for the society.
The simple approach would’ve been to fill the opening, essentially a development person focused on fundraising, no questions asked. Instead, conversations with Snyder led to two hires in different roles.
One new hire focuses on public programming and education. The other is an archives assistant tasked with helping the public on their research endeavors.
Both started in June, and Potter said it took a fresh, big-picture perspective on the nonprofit’s most pressing needs to make the decisions. The open position, meanwhile, is still a need down the road.
“Working with Kim, it helped me to go ‘Wait a second, that is a position we need, but is that the one we need right now?'” Potter said.
She described Snyder as a great resource for nonprofits facing similar decisions.
“I’m very grateful our nonprofit community is being supported, not just individually through donations, but with a program like this that helps us,” she said.
The fun part of the work, Snyder said, is getting to be affirming with nonprofit leaders.
She helped lead workshops, trainings and listening sessions for nonprofits. Nonprofit leaders shared what they’re going through, while learning how to navigate through board, donor and volunteer relations.
By working with a diverse range of nonprofits, from arts organizations to disability services to mental health, Snyder’s role also involves identifying instances of overlap and opportunities for closer collaboration. All nonprofits are competing for a finite amount of donations and resources, and, by having a convener on hand, Snyder said they might find ways to make even bigger impacts in their communities.
“There are all these ways to think about collaborating,” she said. “Collaborating is something people are interested in, but they don’t have the time or resources. The foundation is saying “Here’s someone who is dedicated to doing that.'”
Funded through philanthropy as a pilot program, the residency’s duration will be determined by donations. The minimum goal is to offer it through the end of this year, Snyder said.
“Our outcomes are positive so there’s no question in our minds it’s having an impact,” she said. “It’s just like with everything: How do you fund it? We feel optimistic about that part too.”