Non-Profit Leadership: How To Build Programmatic Diversity

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One of the principles of good investing is found in the word diversity. It means that rather than investing in one set of stocks, you diversify your investments into a variety of different stocks and industries so that at any given time your finances will not be jeopardized by trends that may impact one industry and not another. It provides a sense of protection from the different possibilities that a changing economy might bring.

It is a good lesson for programmatic development for non-profits as well. I remember several organizations in our community that had one dimension to what they were doing when I arrived at Lakeside. For those that did not branch out to create new programmatic components, most of them went out of business due to changing funding streams in our region. This is such a loss that so many talented staff who cared about their clients had to leave their jobs and their organization because of this one-dimensional approach.

An example of this is what happened to Lakeside during the recent COVID pandemic. Lakeside has been diversifying our programs for several years. A significant amount of our revenue came from our schools through the relationships we had with regional school districts where students were referred to us. While we were receiving these referrals, we also began new relationships around in-school counseling for their students. Additionally, we began to provide training at a regional and national level for schools and other organizations that had staff who dealt with trauma-impacted adults and youth.

As COVID-19 permeated our region and schools went virtual in their education, our referrals to our schools dropped significantly. This occurred because schools were not in a position to identify new students needing our services because their students were at home. This didn’t mean that students were not in need. Rather they just had not been identified as needing services and it would take some time to recoup the number of students that needed to be referred. This could have significantly hurt Lakeside’s capacity and financial stability.

However, once schools reopened there was a national realization that students suffered some significant emotional deficits during COVID and state funding was granted to school districts to provide mental health supports to students. Because Lakeside already provided those in-school services, our regional school districts contacted us, not to refer students but to contract with Lakeside to provide over 40 counselors and a number of specialists to help their schools deal with the trauma and mental health crisis that their students were facing.

While Lakeside was in recovery from reduced student enrollment, we were able to sustain the financial loss through increased opportunities to contract with other services we offered to our regional school districts. This increased revenue allowed Lakeside to continue its mission of helping students while gradually bringing our enrollment back up over a two-year period. We also received new opportunities for training for school districts and other organizations needing trauma-informed care.

Lakeside’s intentional plans to diversify our programs allowed us to shift our emphasis and programmatic growth while schools were working through recovery from the impact of COVID’s issues. I attribute this survival to our diversification of programming through many years of planning, training, and growth. It is a lesson for all non-profits to be cautious about one-dimensional thinking and prepare for opportunities for growth that will broaden your capacity and strengthen your ability to adapt to a changing world.

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO

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