Unrestricted Funds…To Give or Not to Give

I want to reflect on the unique opportunities (and challenges) that VISIONS faced over the last fiscal year, which closed in July.  We saw an unprecedented demand for our diversity, equity and inclusion work, while juggling the constantly-evolving realities of operating during a global pandemic.

VISIONS needed to move swiftly yet be mindful. Be responsive, and conscientious.

If you are a partner or member of the VISIONS community, you’ll know firsthand that this complicated reality required us to discard quite a few norms and figure out new ones, while we continued to execute our programs and project commitments. The people-power and skills required were a bit different. It was like the saying “Building the airplane while flying it” but 40,000 feet in the air. As we grappled with the still present pandemic, we were met with the horrific ramifications of George Floyd’s death and a divisive nation. VISIONS quickly realized our work was in demand and necessary in an unprecedented volume. We had to pivot to:

  •   Expand and train our operations staff so consultants could focus on content and delivery in a virtual space
  •   Train team members to manage on-line learning
  •   Expand VISIONS’ Zoom subscription, and importantly, strengthen our IT and security 

There was no project budget, nor one line item that could accommodate this sort of rapid growth. We worked hard to have a seamless transition in how we delivered our services, and be flexible and forgiving with ourselves to maintain a high standard of customer service, transparency and accountability while the ground was shifting under our feet.

This operational reality has made me think about, once again, the importance of general operating support for organizations like VISIONS. “General operating support” is unrestricted funding that organizations can apply to any part of their organization. For many reasons, funders typically prefer allocating donations for a very specific project or program, with the goal of being able to measure the desired impact.

We will continue to exercise fiscal responsibility to our donor. We operate at our best when we have the flexibility and autonomy to respond to the changing realities of our industry…and world. COVID-19 and its subsequent variants continue to remind us all that very little in business, and life, is certain.

If you are part of a non-profit, or any organization, you fully realize what it takes to run a program or project: salaries (ideally competitive and equitable ones); insurance; annual filing expenses; healthcare; and retirement plans – not to mention electricity, internet fees, among just a few. These items have historically been labeled “overhead,” which to a funder, can be a word with much negative connotation in the nonprofit world.

However, without these expenses, an organization cannot run effectively, or at all.

Throughout my nearly 24-year nonprofit career, I’ve watched organizations struggle to find ways to fund these necessary expenses. And “pandemic operations” reminded me that it is unwise to be myopic about what it takes to run a program beyond the program manager. Organizations should have a rainy-day fund…or in this case a “torrential downpour” fund so they can sustain the good work that they bring to various communities – despite the weather. In a downpour, that’s when their work it is needed most.

When real world situations happen, all businesses must pivot and accommodate new realities. Transparency in operating costs is important. I also feel that trust and confidence are equally important.

I encourage foundations and other donors to do their due diligence. And once they identify their partners and funding recipients, trust them. Doing so will yield the most impactful results.

Because of the trust from donors, we had the flexibility to host fifty people over the year in VISIONS’ Personal Approach to Change and Equity Training Workshop (PACE 1), when the content was needed most but financial security for many could have prevented them from attending.

If you continue to trust us and help ensure our greatest areas of need are accommodated, we will make certain that your general operating dollar has the most impact possible. One of the VISION/PACE guidelines is “Try it on.” We will continue to explore different ways of affecting change, adding value and generating revenue. We are committed to doing this important work for at least another 36 years.

Regardless of your association or relationship with VISIONS, thank you for your trust and your partnership. We are excited to build on what we have learned in 2020-21 and hope you will continue your support.

C. Nikki Glass
VP, Administration