As a Program Officer at Coastal Community Foundation, I learn something new and interesting every day. Some days, the learning comes in bits and pieces – a leadership change, a new program, a more scenic route to a site visit. Other days, it comes in the form of a lightbulb moment – insight that more deeply informs my entire understanding of our sector.
One of my recent lightbulb moments is the funding relationship between national nonprofit organizations and their local affiliates. When we talk about Susan G. Komen, American Red Cross and Special Olympics, it’s easy to assume that the local affiliates are supporting and sustaining their programs with revenue from their parent organizations, all of which boast annual revenue ranging from hundreds of millions to billions of dollars. I know I did.
Though the relationships between national organizations and their local affiliates can be complex, with varying business models, the general truth is most local programming is funded locally.
For example, Susan G. Komen Lowcountry invests significantly in local organizations that provide life-saving support services to un- and underinsured individuals who are most at risk for an undetected diagnosis of breast cancer or, worse, preventable death. These grants, which profoundly impact rural and other disenfranchised communities, are funded by local donors who support and participate in events organized by our local affiliate. In addition to grantmaking and facilitating community events such as Race for the Cure, local donors support direct, grassroots programming that builds awareness, educates and connects those at highest risk of facing breast cancer to services. All of Susan G. Komen Lowcountry’s work is managed locally by a staff of four, along with many dedicated volunteers and grassroots advocates. In order to access national funding for specific programs, Susan G. Komen Lowcountry has to navigate a highly competitive grant process. As with many local affiliates of national organizations, educational materials and branded resources are not free, but instead, must be purchased by the affiliate.
Palmetto SC Region of the American Red Cross has been at the forefront of the news lately as a predominant player in disaster relief following the October floods that devastated regions of our state. As with many local affiliates of national organizations, much of this and their other work is funded solely through local donations. While there may be avenues of support from the national American Red Cross to address major disasters (as required by an unpaid, Congressional mandate*), local staff at each chapter of our region’s affiliate will be working long after those dollars are exhausted to assist communities left to deal with long-term destruction. To add, American Red Cross provides our community with a continuous, diverse range of disaster relief programs, one of which includes providing services to survivors of home fires. Local volunteers are on call each night, ready at every moment to provide immediate, on-site assistance with logistics ranging from temporary shelter to emergency prescription refills to contacting schools with requests for excused absences and replacement school books. As you can imagine, these programs provide a lifeline to individuals and families overcome by devastating loss, and they are all managed and executed from within our community. The American Red Cross is reliant on the generosity of local donors and volunteers to sustain this and the rest of its important work with little assistance from its parent organization.
Special Olympics South Carolina Area 6 provides programming primarily to individuals with intellectual disabilities in Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester Counties. Their local programs are some of the few regularly scheduled opportunities for community building among people who share the unique experience of having or caring for a loved one with a special need. Under volunteer leadership which requires more than 20 hours of work per week, Area 6 operates on a shoestring budget to provide athletes across the Tri-County with year-round opportunities that include running clubs, polar bear plunges, team sports and school field trip excursions. All of this programming is dependent on local donors and partnerships. Special Olympics South Carolina, headquartered in Irmo, does host larger, statewide events for athletes. These events, however, can come at a cost to family participants and to area organizations, who are responsible for organizing and transporting.
There are many other examples of local affiliates of national organizations that operate right here at home and rely on the generosity of local individuals, businesses and foundations in order to provide critical programming to our community. While national organizations provide assets that may include a visible brand, sophisticated outcomes measurement systems or best practice centered program structures, local organizations often have to “pay up” to access these resources why not look here.
The real story about how national organizations and their local affiliates work together has broadened my perspective on our sector and given me a sense of deep appreciation for the work that’s happening at the local level – I hope it does for you too.
*The American Red Cross is mandated by the United States Congress to respond to natural disasters without a corresponding commitment of financial compensation/support.