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Local nonprofits find out what works — and what doesn’t — amid pandemic, civil unrest

Margie Manning

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Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay hasn’t let the COVID-19 pandemic stop its work.

The Center, which refers people facing crisis to agencies where they can get help, has seen rising demand for its services since the outbreak of the pandemic and has pivoted to meet the need, said Jennifer Moore, vice president of development.

Jennifer Moore

A shift to telecommuting for workers and telehealth for clients, as well as new partnerships and collaborations, are among the changes the Center has successfully maneuvered.

Moore was a panelist at a nonprofit leadership roundtable at Synapse Converge, a three-day virtual gathering held online earlier this week. Innovators from across Florida were invited to engage, connect and showcase their companies.

Other panelists were Sabeen Perwaiz, executive director of the Florida Nonprofit Alliance (FNA), a statewide organization headquartered in Jacksonville, and Liz Wooten-Reschke, president and CEO of Connect for More, a Tampa company focused on nonprofit capacity and community building.

FNA worked to ensure nonprofits were able to participate in the second round of Payroll Protection Program funding and created a COVID-19 response page to keep nonprofits up to date on program requirements and serve as guidance for state leaders, Perwaiz said.

Sabeen Perwaiz

The organization is creating programming to help nonprofits incorporate the changes they’ve instituted over the past few months into operations for the long haul, she said.

Perwaiz said it was encouraging to see many organizations quickly shift gears. As an example, Catholic Charities in Jacksonville changed its spring gala from in-person to online, asking guests to dress up and submit photos on the live feed so participants would get a sense of community. The organization bested its planned fundraising goal by 30 percent, she said.

Not reaching out to donors during troubled times is a mistake, Moore said.

“I kept hearing from all type of businesses that they are essential and staying open. I was surprised I did not get emails from nonprofits I personally support telling me we’re still here and we still need your support,” she said.

Safe space

The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay serves as a gateway to other organizations, helping people who are struggling with sexual assault or abuse, financial distress, substance abuse, medical emergency, suicidal thoughts and other emotional or situational problems. Crisis Center workers answer 211 calls and make referrals.

The center successfully shifted to a work from home model — something it had not done previously. It also pivoted from in-person therapy to teletherapy, which also was a success, Moore said.

“People who couldn’t get to the crisis center previously now make every counseling appointment, so we know we are helping them,” she said.

Not only was the center taking care of its clients but also its own employees, who were impacted by the pandemic as well as the civil unrest in the wake of the killing of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.

Not every employee was ready to talk about the racial equity issues that have come to the forefront since then, Moore said.

It’s important to create a safe space to allow workers to lean into tough conversations and address thoughts on racism, said Wooten-Reschke, who moderated the panel.

The public approach organizations take to the civil unrest also is key, Perwaiz said.

“Some will say, let’s just put out a cute graphic and that’s  enough. It’s not. People forget that everything that’s put out is being observed carefully and it can come back negatively to affect their organizations, whether it’s fundraising or membership or boards, If they’re not willing to do the hard work, just don’t say anything at all. To take the easy way out is noticeable and embarrassing, and I have seen several organizations across our state do that,” she said.

Organizations that are not addressing the civil unrest are making a mistake, Moore said. Silence also sends a message, she said.

Equity and inclusion are topics that no organization can ignore, Wooten-Reschke said. “Apathy or lack of doing anything is seen as complacency. It’s seen as collusion in many ways.”

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