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The CEO Perspective

Alison’s Outlook

As I near my one year anniversary at WithinReach, I’m even more inspired by our ability to create meaningful impact in our community. In June, our board approved a new three-year strategic plan that will propel us forward into 2016. We have ambitious goals for our three- year Healthy Connections Campaign including:

  • Connecting 45,000 people with health insurance
  • Connecting 35,000 families with food benefits
  • Providing 12,000 development screens
  • Providing valuable information on immunizations, breastfeeding, health, food and development to over 1 million people in Washington

We do this because we know that healthy families make healthy communities. And we are driven every day to make sure that Washington families have the connections they need to be healthy.

One of the things that I am most excited about is health care reform. This is a once in a generation opportunity to create meaningful improvements in our health care system.  On October 1, a major milestone in the Affordable Care Act will occur when the Washington Health Benefit Exchange will open enrollment. The Exchange will offer increased access to quality health insurance plans for almost one million Washingtonians.

WithinReach is committed to making sure everyone can easily understand their options.  Our entire outreach team will be certified as “In-Person Assistors” and will guide clients over the phone and in-person through the health insurance enrollment process.  We will also take this opportunity to connect them to food and child development resources, if needed. WithinReach takes our role as an assistor seriously and we stand ready to make sure that our most vulnerable families get connected to the resources they need to be healthy.

We want to keep you up to date on our work so we are hosting a series of Healthy Connections Campaign “brown bag” phone-in briefings on August 8 and 22 at noon.  Join us and share your input! Send us an email to let us know you’ll be there.

Beyond the Paint Brush

Beyond are the days of measuring corporate social responsibility and community impact simply by the size of a donation or the number of volunteer hours. Corporations, government agencies and nonprofit organizations need to accept and embrace a “new normal” for effective community engagement.  As the economy tries to work itself out of recession, the new normal recognizes the continued fiscal belt tightening by federal, state, county and local municipalities; the fine tuning of foundation strategies toward community impact; corporate demand for bottom line and social returns; and the challenge nonprofits face to fill an increasing demand for services.  It is the nexus of these three streams that form the “new normal.”  In the new normal, we aren’t going to buy our way back to community vitality, but rather will require all three sectors to innovate and do the work differently.

Bottomline, for the new normal to work and create true social impact, companies need to look more like nonprofits and nonprofits need to look more like businesses.  And we all need to realize that government agencies alone cannot create the communities where we want to start a business or raise a family. Nonprofits need to understand the “triple bottom” line that companies follow at the prompting of shareholders and businesses need to understand that they have a multi-tiered platform for social change.

Don’t get me wrong.  Nonprofits still need your time and need your donations but true community engagement can only occur if there is a realignment of resources; shared understanding of the goals of each sector; and a commitment to work together in the new normal. To do so, we need to create a new perspective on community engagement and a simple first step is to shift our definition of volunteering.

There is no denying the important humanitarian contribution that the countless community volunteers who donate their time to pick up trash, walk homeless dogs, beautify a community center or serve food at a homeless shelter make to our communities. Volunteers are the reflection of the heart and soul of this region and they make it a better place for all of us.

Yet, I often hear the stories of nonprofit organizations struggling to find an activity for a highly skilled volunteer. I also hear the lament of volunteers feeling that they are only scratching the surface of substantive community issues and needs.

What if we moved beyond the paint brush to unleash the individual potential of each of these volunteers as the greatest assets to social change and local community impact.  To do so, we must continue to blur the lines between corporate social responsibility and community engagement.  Often the examples of operating in the blurry area are best seen internationally amongst teams of technology company employees volunteering to provide skills trainings to local communities.  Doctors performing surgeries to correct cleft palates.  Public health experts developing culturally appropriate community health programs.

The following are ways for us to take that first step.

Create access to nonprofits for your company and its employees.  Recently, our Director of Development met with a large company and many would have expected that the discussion would be about money but it was not, it was about the services WithinReach offers to the community and how that information would be important to the staff of the company to know so that they could provide low cost insurance and Basic Food information to family or friends struggling to make ends meet.

Foster a culture where employees are encouraged to be on local nonprofit boards.  Being on the board of an organization gives employees opportunities to weigh in on strategic planning and share their business skills.  Board participation connects employees with the communities where they live and work and often nets new business contacts.

Lend your voice.  The saying is true – all politics are local. Elected leaders want to hear from their constituents and not just organizations.  Connect with a nonprofit organization that supports an issue of concern to you or your business and learn about their public policy agenda or any upcoming advocacy campaigns.  Then, lend your voice by sending an email, calling an elected official or attending a public meeting.

Social media engagement.  Social media has proven itself as an instrument for social change.  Support the Facebook and Twitter campaigns of local nonprofit organizations by building a “corporate-nonprofit tweet up” on an issue of mutual interest.

Encourage employees to sit on community panels and town halls.  Often those speaking opportunities are the exclusive domain of a handful of company employees.  But, what about broadening that circle of influence to include other staff either with work related experience in a particular area.

Working together, we can create the vibrant community we want to live in and it is up to us.

Looming Goverment Shutdown Impacts Most Vulnerable Members of Our Community

Wow, what a week– and it’s only Wednesday. On Monday, our Government funders notified us that if the legislature does not have a budget approved as of July 1, they expect WithinReach to cease any of our government-contracted operations.  If you have been following the news a budget seems likely, but there is “no deal” yet.  This means we go to work developing contingency plans. I have to admit I am a little annoyed by this, because my team could be using our efforts to do more community impact work–rather than figuring out what to do if the legislature can’t come up with a deal.

However, the really frustrating part of this is not the extra work my team needs to do to be prepared, but rather what this means to the clients we serve.

On the surface, I can see why people think a few days of government shutdown might not be that big of deal but for our clients here is what it means:

  • No assisting families with Basic Food applications–that means kids and families go hungry
  • No assisting families with WIC applications–that means kids and moms don’t get necessary nutrition to develop their brains
  • No assisting families with Apple Health for Kids applications–that means kids don’t get insurance and likely forgo medical care
  • No educational activities on the importance of immunizing your kids–this puts all of our kids at risk when they are in school or at summer camp

This is the REAL impact of government shutdown.

I am disappointed that the legislature has not been able to strike a deal. I get that politics is an ugly game sometimes, but our families deserve more leadership from our elected officials.

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