These are crazy times, that’s for sure. We’ve been doing Q&As with local businesses to see how they’ve been dealing with the COVID-19 concerns. In this one, we mix it up a bit and try to understand how a local non-profit/charity, must! charities, deals with the pandemic. Thank you to Becky for doing this.If you’re not familiar with must! charities, you can learn more at their website, here.
Matt: To start, can you briefly discuss the goals and mission of must! charities?
Becky: must! charities is driven by a collaboration of community members passionate about philanthropy with the desire to transform our community.
must! charities’ is “Venture Philanthropy”. We use an investment-minded approach to social initiatives. Based on the greatest community needs, we work with existing non-profits in a variety of sectors including education, health & wellness, mentoring, housing and more. The goal is to see transformational change happen in our region. The results from the power of collective & strategic giving is incredible.
Matt: Prior to COVID-19, how were things going at must! charities and what are some current projects you’ve been working on?
Becky: Prior to COVID-19 we were investing in Non-profits who were addressing some of our biggest community needs. You asked what some of our current projects are… It’s a lot, but totally worth the read. I am super proud to share our current projects that we still remain committed to currently.
ECHO (El Camino Homeless Organization) – Almost four years ago we recognized the work that ECHO was doing in the community to address homelessness. They were seeking help, and were ready to do the hard work and adapt to the ever-growing issues our region was faced with. We committed to a four-year investment with them. It included an investment in the foundation of ECHO, board development, strategic planning, re-structuring how homeless are served (the model was 17 years old, and didn’t fit the needs of today).
Four years later, and a ton of work on their end… the results are astounding! They went from a $340K annual operating budget to $1.7M annual budget. They are now a robust organization with solid leadership, a strong diverse board, low staff turnover, operating with new day time hours, 7 years ahead of the 10-year plan we created, and over a 60% success rate in transitioning people out of homelessness and into permanent housing! The success is a result of a program-based model, that isn’t just about housing but about helping individuals heal from within. I don’t know if you follow data, but the national average is ridiculously low when it comes to success of helping individuals transition out of homelessness. This model works and addresses root causes while giving a hand up (not a hand out) to individuals.
(This model is very similar to how we operate with our non-profit partnerships. We don’t disseminate grants, we use an evocative giving model and when the organizations are willing and able to do the hard work the results are incredible, as you can see here.)
The CEO of ECHO & some board members recently summed up our partnership; “We literally wouldn’t be where we are today without the help from must! charities.” Wendy Lewis, CEO & Fellow Board Members.
Because of their willingness to do the hard work, we committed to a second project with them last year. We are hoping to break ground soon on a complete overhaul of their kitchen and dining area. We leveraged our donor base connections in the restaurant industry to help us determine job needs in our community and design a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen and workforce development center that will not only benefit the organization and its residents but the community at large as well.
Boys & Girls Club Expansion into Shandon – Let’s talk about complete transformation… Way back in 2012 we partnered with the Boys & Girls Club of Paso Robles. We are now on our 5th project with them. They started as an organization serving about 100 kids in 1 clubhouse in Paso. Today, thanks to a ton of hard work on their part and a strategic merger they are now known as The Boys & Girls Club of the Mid-Central Coast (BGCMCC). In 2012 their annual operating budget was $350K today it is $2.6M. They are a robust healthy organization serving over 6,000 youth at 12 club sites from Santa Maria to Shandon. Their leadership is solid, and they are adaptable and data driven to serve the youth who need them most in our region. We have been so impressed with their ability to adapt even amidst the COVID-19 crisis. They continue to forge ahead making sure they are not only connecting with their youth virtually every day, but that they are also giving back as a community, leveraging their resources to partner and make sure certain communities have access to food. They are serving on the front line and are an instrumental community partner. We are blown away at their willingness to adapt and meet community needs.
This past year we launched a Shandon Club site in partnership with Shandon School District & BGCMCC. When the crisis hit, they were already serving 85 youth a day (that is 84% of the school population). They adapted and went virtual and their average daily attendance is now 100 youth daily. We have another 2 years committed to this project, and we are thrilled with the results just one-year in.
We love how Jeremy Deming, President / CEO of BGCMCC sums up our partnership; “Since 2012, must! charities has been a devoted supporter of Boys & Girls Clubs. Their staff and board have been trailblazers in partnership with BGCMCC and they have been historically supportive of new programmatic initiatives. The partnership between must! and BGCMCC is a powerhouse and a true catalyst in creating lasting change in the communities we serve.”
CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) – We began a partnership with CASA in 2015. They came to us with data that showed the need to address the lack of capacity they were faced with when serving youth, at the time specific to the North County. They had a need for outreach and a need to grow their North County advocates. Again, here is an organization who was ready and willing to do the hard work. The success from that work resulted in giving them the support to build their capacity serving 33% of the youth in the county to now serving over 52% of the youth. They increased their outreach and now have over 50 North County advocates.
Strategic, sustainable growth was key. They have needs to continue to grow and serve more youth and a strategic plan to get there. It was during a board meeting that our must! liaison was attending when a side conversation was overheard about data and growth. (Because we serve on boards, we have the ability to hear things that wouldn’t typically show up in a funders report.) This conversation lead into a second project with CASA helping them on their path to sustainability. The gift provides structured guidance to actively engage CASA of San Luis Obispo’s paid and volunteer staff and Board of Directors to create a strategic plan to successfully scale CASA to see their mission to completion – that 100% of abused and neglected children in the court system will have a CASA Volunteer Advocate. In addition, the partnership provides for data reconditioning allowing them to use outcome data on foster children with and without assigned CASA volunteers to justify services, expand grant and funding opportunities, as well as increase awareness of the impact CASA has in foster care and the economic savings to County of San Luis Obispo. We have been getting a glimpse at the data and it’s impressive. Stay tuned as more information unfolds in the coming months as we wrap up this project.
Matt: Once COVID-19 became the issue it currently is, meaning worldwide and in regards to the quarantine, what did you see happening in the charity space?
Becky: When a crisis happens, it is natural for individuals & donors to feel the need to do something, and do it immediately. It’s how we are wired as humans, we naturally want to step up and help.
In the giving world there are two types of giving; Charity and Philanthropy. Both are necessary, and both serve communities in different ways.
The practice of charity involves giving money, goods, or time to the unfortunate. Charity tends to be an emotional, immediate response which is mainly focused on rescue and relief.
Philanthropy, on the other hand is more strategic and built on rebuilding. The latter is the foundation of our organization. We operate this way, because we are accountable for our donor’s dollars and we don’t believe in throwing money at problems, but rather thoroughly assessing and then strategizing our giving.
We had a lot of people reach out asking us how we were going to help when all this first went down. while must! invests through venture philanthropy, we also serve as connectors in a community. We were able to assess immediate needs and connect people to services being provided right out of the gate. The first 4 weeks we worked in a “triage” mode if you will. We also made a small gift to CASA, one of our current projects, to address an immediate need they identified that hindered their ability to move forward on a virtual front and that aligned with our current project.
Today, we are in the middle of gathering data and vetting a couple of organizations who have the ability to service community needs that are on the rise as a result of this COVID crisis. The process will take time and the outcome should produce results that will be long lasting for the benefit of our entire community.
Matt: Have your goals changed at all in the light of COVID-19?
Becky: Our goals have not changed. Must! was founded to address the biggest community needs, by coming alongside those organizations servicing those needs and moving the needle on solutions to addressing needs. We continue to operate in this manner.
Matt: Have you had to pivot how you’re handling must! or is it business as usual?
Becky: Yes, Like all businesses we have had to pivot and adapt to the global pandemic. While our mission remains the same, how we go about doing business has changed.
Adaptability is actually a big part of our partnerships with non-profits. We ask them to adapt and be open to changing for the betterment of our community needs. A leader’s adaptability quotient is imperative when it comes to success. We are seeing that now more than ever.
Matt: Do you have any words for other non-profits/charities?
First off, I always like to clarify what non-profits /charities are. They are businesses. They should operate like a business. They have customers and they provide a service. Their mindset should be business related. So, I guess let’s rephrase the question: Do I have any words for other businesses?… Yes. Here is my advice:
Be willing to do the work.
Be forward thinking.
Be mission focused.
Be willing to collaborate.
Be able to communicate your why and have data to back it.
Matt: How about more generally, do you have any words of encouragement to our community?
Becky: Our community is unique. I wish everyone had the opportunity to sit in my shoes, and see what I see when I look at community. This place is special (seriously, I don’t think people understand how unique our region is – beyond the beauty of the land, climate, population… the hearts of the people in our region are not the norm in other areas).
The fabric of our community is like a tightly woven textile with many different colors and textures. Each piece brings about something unique & different. Various strengths, colors, feels that alone might seem simple, but when woven together is absolutely beautiful.
Be grateful you are a part of this region. It’s one of a kind. Be willing to do your part. Each and every one of us has a part to do. Alone we are one thread but together we can create a beautiful community that benefits everyone.
Matt: If people would like to help, what would be the best way?
Becky: We are all about bringing a community together for social good. We are Venture Philanthropy and if that seems like a good fit for someone then I would encourage them to reach out to us.
You don’t have to be a millionaire to be a philanthropist, anyone can be a part of something bigger than themselves. I have a donor who gives $10 per month and I have some who give much more and together as a collective group we have invested over $2 Million into our community.
Philanthropy is personal – and so every person I have the opportunity to share must! with becomes a friend of sorts. Sometimes must! charities isn’t the right fit, but our goal is to engage everyone in philanthropy so that as a whole community we are better off. Our community needs those to invest with must! and those who want to give in other areas they might be passionate about. I love learning about people’s passions and inspirations and then connecting them with organizations or causes that fit them best. It is there that we see the magic happen.
Matt: If people need help, what would you suggest in regards to where/how they should go about getting that help.
Becky: That’s a loaded question, as there are many areas where people need “help” – relating to both personal & business needs at this time. We created a page that has a link on our website to resources for both. The page will link you to other resources or ways to find resources depending on your needs.