When the coronavirus shut down New York City Schools, our 75 nonprofit partners were immediately thrown into a whirlwind of worry. How could they continue to provide programs to more than 300,000 young people across the city when the Department of Education and the Department of Youth and Community Development were noncommittal about their contracts, and other funding sources were uncertain? Realizing they may not have answers anytime soon, this was a critical time for our partners – and the viability of their programs. Our staff began reaching out to understand their immediate needs and we quickly pivoted our model to meet them.
This pandemic has confirmed the essential role of capacity-building programs like ours. Youth INC not only helps organizations bolster operational efficacy, but also supports their ability to evolve their programs to meet new challenges. Our approach responding to the crisis was threefold:
Identify Structural Challenges
In keeping with our ethos to Listen. Learn. Evolve., we began plotting our response to coronavirus’ impact on our Nonprofit Partner Network by analyzing the sector from every available angle. We read government reports, had team members attending webinars from foundations and corporate supporters and kept abreast of the latest updates from state and private sector leaders. We took an expansive and holistic approach to understand the myriad challenges posed to nonprofits by the pandemic. We sought to fight a strategic air war versus 75 ground wars. We disseminated information daily – or sometimes more frequently, when things were changing by the hour.
Assess Capacity and Skills
We had to rethink our model, too. We began offering an array of online trainings and meetings around topics like crisis communications, digital fundraising, digital programming and online youth protection. By engaging directly with our partners, we were able to get their input while providing opportunities to practice peer learning. This created a platform for our partners to share their struggles and concerns in real time. It became a space that allowed for personal reflection and healing in a time of uncertainty – and more importantly, ensured that no one was in this alone. In April, we also launched a Financial Analysis & Contingency Planning Program with more than 100 volunteers from our corporate supporters. These initiatives allowed us to avoid taking a one-size-fits-all approach and maximize our impact on partners.
With seed capital from Blackstone Charitable Foundation and Nuveen, we launched our COVID-19 Response & Recovery Fund on Giving Tuesday to issue $1 million in cash grants to help our partners remain open to continue to serve their young people. To continue fueling all of our work and impact, we also will soon launch our virtual State of the Market Speaker Series, kicking off with Betty M. Huber interviewing Neuberger Berman CEO George Walker on Thursday, August 13th. Please check out our State of the Market Speaker Series for details on how to register. In this time of great need, it is critical that we direct all available resources to the grassroots nonprofits doing the most to support our community’s young people. This requires creativity and flexibility around the way we raise funds and engage with our strong community of supporters. We have continued to expand the ways that individuals and companies can contribute to our work.
These efforts have allowed us to step up for our partners in a time of unprecedented need. As one veteran nonprofit Executive Director remarked, “Many funders had called to ‘check-in,’ but Youth INC was the only organization providing the support [we] needed during this crisis.”
Youth INC will continue to invest in sector resiliency and flexibility. What we’ve accomplished is only the beginning of our efforts to ensure the nonprofit sector can continue to effectively serve our city’s most under-resourced youth well into the future. As we continue to empower our nonprofit partners and the youth they serve, we are also assessing our own efforts in areas like Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Effective organizations constantly take stock of their own place in larger systems, analyze their needs and capacities, and strive to mobilize the best possible resources in service of mission. We are excited to watch as our network continues to model the benefits of this approach and spur positive developments in the larger social impact sector. Together, we can meet the challenge of this moment and guarantee all youth have the support they need to thrive.