Sustainability is a challenge.
It is one thing to begin. Quite another to endure.
This is true in terms of funding development initiatives. It is also true of organizational culture and leadership.
I've been taught and I've observed the truth that money follows people and ideas. Organizations devoted to community development must find a good supply of both.
I've also noticed across the years that if an organization can locate the right people, good ideas just follow.
Funding the work of rebuilding at-risk communities is a persistent challenge. Until you've tried it, there is no way to explain just how difficult it can be. For the most part "everyone" wants to help people who are "down on their luck" or "in need." Attempting to organize and orchestrate community renewal involves longterm actions that tend to wear donors out!
When it comes to funding community development, a combination of creative, aggressive philanthropy with entrepreneurial tactics that lead to the creation of profit centers seems to be the very best combination. All across the nation more and more non-profit organizations are recognizing the need to find sustainable methods for funding their work. For examples of this growing trend, Bill Shore's helpful book, The Cathedral Within, is well worth the read.
In my day-to-day world, our community development corporation is working hard to find work that will result not only in new homes for low-income people, but also nice developer's fees to fund our future projects. We have learned that we cannot depend upon charity alone to do the kind of work that needs to be done.
We are exploring other profit center possibilities as well. Workforce development, legal services and our grocery enterprises seem to offer some hope of a return on our investments. As a non-profit corporation, we will use every dollar earned above our costs to fund forward our work plans for tomorrow.
Of course, we continue to work hard to raise funds from donors of all sorts--foundations, churches, businesses, individuals and various government or public sources. Philanthropy continues to be our main source of revenue.
Public funding provides a growing percentage of our annual revenue. These public funds usually involve a contract arrangement. In every case personal relationships and quality performance are key to sustainability.
People are even more important than funding.
To sustain organizational life, work and a culture of creativity; you have to locate bright young, mission-focused men and women who will carry on after those of us who are longer of tooth move on!
The trick is locating those emerging leaders who are both bright and driven by their own sense of mission for urban issues and equity. We are very fortunate here at Central Dallas Ministries to have gathered an amazing team of incredibly bright, visionary young leaders. They have amazing capacity and heart. They are the kind of people who will carry on and improve our work here in Dallas and in other cities after I'm long gone!
Community development calls for attention to sustainability. The haul is long. The demands are great. As we eye our future, we take our work one day at a time.
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