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Connecting with Local Non-Profits with Stephenie D. Stevens

Podcast published: November 20, 2020

While we have focused on businesses in and around Chester County since shortly after the arrival of COVID-19, we know that non-profits in the area have suffered the same challenges and hurdles. To learn what non-profits in Chester County are experiencing, and how those non-profits are pivoting, we spoke with Stephenie D. Stevens, Grants & Outreach Officer with the Chester County Community Foundation.



What are non-profits in Chester County experiencing during this COVID-19 economy?

  • Many local charities that provide human services are seeing a 30%-50% increase in demand for their respective services.
  • Those non-profits that were forced to close – like those in arts and culture – have struggled to re-open successfully because they really on ticket sales for revenue.
  • Smaller charities across Chester County have seen a $30 million drop in donations in 2020 over 2019.
  • Those small charities expect to take 7 to 8 years to recoup the lost donation revenues.
  • Locally, the hardest hit non-profit sector is the arts and culture sector. Those charities have seem their revenue streams cut off or dramatically reduced as they switched to presenting shows and events online.

Do you have examples of non-profits have successfully pivoted to offer their services and programs in new ways?

  • The pandemic has forced non-profits to think outside the box; they have had to connect with their communities in new way.
  • The health sector has very quickly adapted tele-health approaches.
  • Camp Dreamcatcher, which provides therapeutic and educational programs to HIV/AIDS impacted youth and their families now offers online counseling.
  • Camp Dreamcatcher ran its summer camp online and streamed online activities with its animals.
  • Non-profits focused on supporting animals have been streaming groups of puppies or kittens playing together.
  • Food banks have transitioned to move food distribution outside in more of a flea market sort of way.
  • As charities transition away (temporarily) from galas, online events and fundraisers are how charities are working to sustain themselves; however online events generally mean smaller audiences and reduced revenues for charities.
  • Like businesses, charities are working hard to create new and diversified revenue streams.

For folks who want to support their local charities, how can they review and vet those non-profits?

  • The most valuable resource for investigating non-profits is online research. Search for the non-profit on Google or DuckDuckGo.
  • Websites like Guidestar list, categorize, and review charities based on tax filings and other published documents.
  • Visit the charity’s website – charities should be as transparent as possible so look for detailed information about the organization on its own website.
  • Local resources like Guidestar include the Chester County Community Foundation, Phoenixville Health Foundation, and Brandywine Health Foundation

Joe Casabona: Hey, everybody. And welcome to another episode of Start Local, the podcast focused on helping businesses in Chester County, PA, and the greater Philly area as we navigate through this Covid-19 economy. My name’s Joe Casabona.

Before I bring in my fellow co-host and our guest, I want to tell you about our very free and very monthly newsletter called Start Local Monthly. You’ll get all sorts of news from Chester County in the Greater Philly area. You’ll get a recap of the episodes we released that month, as well as tips, tricks, and other things that will be helpful to you, a business owner in Chester County. So, if you want to sign up for that, that’s the Start Local monthly, you can go to [startlocal.co/news]. That’s [startlocal.co/news].

Okay. And so now I’d like to bring in my fellow co-host, Liam Dempsey. Liam, how are you today? 

Liam Dempsey: Joe, I’m fantastic. Thank you. And I just wanna flag up that, that newsletter is gonna be really valuable to not only owners, but business leaders and the leadership at nonprofits across the county as well, for sure.

Joe Casabona: Yes, absolutely. And that is an important note because today, our guest is Stephenie Stevens. She’s the grants and outreach officer at the Chester County Community Foundation. Stephenie, how are you today?

Stephenie Stevens:  I’m good. Thank you. 

Joe Casabona: Thanks so much for being here. I’m really excited to get into some of the questions surrounding local nonprofits during Covid-19. But first, why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?

Stephenie Stevens: Sure. So I am the, as you said, I’m the grants and outreach officer for the Chester County Community Foundation. And I guess the best way to describe, what I do for the foundation is, I’m a bit of a matchmaker in terms of I connect people care with causes that matter. And that’s essentially what the Community Foundation is. It’s a group of individuals and families that wanna do good in the Chester County community. And rather than start their own private foundations, they turn to the community foundation, they operate underneath us, and therefore they’re allowed to kind of go out. Use our 5013 and just go out into the community and just immediately start doing good working with nonprofits. So, all kinds of things. 

Joe Casabona: Wow! That’s really fantastic. As somebody who has set up a nonprofit, myself, and when I say I set up, I mean my brothers and I hired like a lawyer to do it. 

Stephenie Stevens: Yeah.

Joe Casabona: That’s really valuable ’cause that was, you know, like setting up the 501C and everything like that was very time consuming and seemingly complicated. So, that sounds super valuable.

Stephenie Stevens: It is. It’s a really nice alternative to setting up a private foundation, which can be somewhat administrative heavy and, you know, pretty expensive to do it that way. You know, this way, you get to use R501C3. We have about 400 donor-advised funds under our umbrella, and therefore you get to split the administrative costs. People like me, people like other people on the staff here, you know, divide that by, you know, 399, you know, organizations and very small amount. And we do all the background work for you. We’ll take care of all the paperwork and making sure, you know, the IRSS is happy and that kind of thing. So…

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. That’s really important particularly now as people who care are looking to support nonprofits. I think everybody is aware of just how much nonprofits are suffering these days or maybe more accurately stated, they’re aware that they’re suffering. 

I wonder if you can tell us some of the specifics on what nonprofits or charitable organizations across Chester County are experiencing over the last six, seven months with Covid 19. 

Stephenie Stevens: Yeah. So you can barely, you know, have any conversation today with anybody where covid is not affecting them. And that’s especially true with nonprofits. They’re finding a huge increase in their service demand especially in the human service realm right now. I think a lot of the organizations say that, you know, they’re up anywhere from 30 to 50%. You know, where they were this time last year when they weren’t dealing with Covid.

And then it’s, you know, and then when you start talking about organizations that have had to close, and when I say organizations I’ve had to close, I’m talking about short-term closures for say, arts and culture. You know, where they relied on ticket sales, you know, to support their musicians and their mission. They just can’t open.

Liam Dempsey: Stephenie, I wanna ask you about a number that you shared with me in advance of this recorded conversation. I just wanna double check the numbers that you shared because my notes are not as always as accurate as I would like. And I think that you said that across Chester County, the smaller nonprofits taking out the bigger ones like long wind gardens and the like, that universally they’re down about, (or collectively not universally). Collectively, they’re down about 30 million in donations this year. 

Stephenie Stevens: Yeah. So it’s the number is, you’re right. The number is 30 million, and that was a survey that we actually, you know, released back in June. And we said, you know, how’s this, you know, pandemic going to potentially affect you. And we asked them to look at six months out and then we asked them to look at 12 months out. 

And when we got the numbers back, and we did the calculations based on what came back, it’s approximately $30 million that these organizations are gonna be in a deficit of. And it’s gonna take them  anywhere from seven to eight years to recoup those losses. 

Joe Casabona: Wow. That’s incredible. And, you know, it’s funny that you mentioned (not funny though) it’s interesting I’ll say that you mentioned the arts because I know my brother is the events organizer at an art gallery called Larrick in upstate New York, and they’ve been really struggling. I know that they were able to get a grant to kind of tide them over for a little bit. And they were hoping that they could have what was their annual big art festival in June. They were hoping they could do it in August and turns out that they couldn’t. So I know that they’ve been struggling pretty hard, just as some first hand knowledge I have of the situation. And, as you said, you’re seeing that around. A lot of nonprofits around here as well. 

Stephenie Stevens: Yeah. The one, or a field of, you know, interest when I think about philanthropy, you know, we break it down into kind of, you know, six categories. And the one that’s actually kind of being hit the hardest is the arts and culture field. Because as I said earlier, they rely on ticket sales. And you know, they pack you into a theater and there’s just close contact and there is no way to effectively do social distancing the way that the theaters are kind of set up right now. So, unless they had some type of area where they could have done an outside when the weather was nicer and done some programming outside, they really just couldn’t.

And then that’s not even including the idea of, you know, what happens at intermission? Everybody gets up and goes to the restroom. You can’t have that anymore. So they’re really, really stuck. And some of them have to come up with some really unique circumstances to get over that. But the quickest thing that everybody thought to do was, “Oh, I’ll take all my programs and I’ll put ’em online”, which is great and wonderful. But now they’re dealing with a new technology that maybe they’re weren’t very used to before. So they have some hurdles to get over, plus the cost of it. And they’re competing with a lot of other organizations that are doing the same thing. So…

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. Yeah. Those are…Thank you for sharing that. And  you know, we talk about Zoom. and Zoom is a low cost tool, but the, frankly, the money’s not the challenge, right? It’s the how do you use Zoom and then how do you build an audience that’s used to coming in person to just come online. And as you noted, so many organizations are pivoting online that it can be a challenge to get folks free time, especially if they’ve been on Zoom calls all day for work.

But, I want to talk about some of the organizations that have successfully pivoted or are addressing the needs of their communities in new and exciting ways, especially given that you said that they’re seeing a 30 to 50% increase in workload or calls for service while at the same time experiencing a $30 million shortfall in funding to deliver those. Can you share one or two examples of some local nonprofits that have pivoted and are really able to serve their communities in ways that might inspire and provide ideas for other nonprofits in the area?

Stephenie Stevens: Absolutely. One thing that this pandemic has forced nonprofits to do is really think outside the box. You know, they have had to get away from, you know, the in-person kind of communication, the one-on-one that they had with their constituents. Instead, it’s been a hugely poured in telehealth kind of situations.

So the organizations out there that provided, you know, some type of medical or mental health assistance,  to constituents, they’re really grasping on to this idea of telehealth and it’s actually working for them.

I know that there is an organization, it’s called Camp Dreamcatcher, and it deals with two children that are HIV aids, you know, those kind of issues. And they’re doing online counseling now with their kids. They also run a summer camp program that they could not do in person this year. So, instead the camp counselors came online and they would do art projects with the kids on there. They are animals at this  organization. So they would do online video, you know, interaction with the animals and stuff like that, which is fabulous. 

And has anybody ever watched, you know, was it the Super Bowl? At halftime you turn over to Animal Planet. There’s always the puppy bowl or the kitty bowl or whatever. Well, I know some animal organizations are putting some puppies and kittens in a room. And for an hour each night letting the animals play together. And people, and they put webcams in there so people can actually log on and see it. And I will tell you, it’s good for melatonin and stuff like that. Nice stress reliever to watch that. 

Food banks, you know, where they used to kinda give a shopping experience to their constituents in indoors and everything else. Well, they’re now kind of setting up as like an outdoor flea market, and  people will drive in and do their outside shopping kind of situation.

Again, this is all to, you know, pivot from what they’ve traditionally done, and provide, you know, social distancing while still meeting the needs.

Joe Casabona: That’s really fantastic. And I’ve heard kind of the same things about the telehealth and what Camp Dreamcatcher is doing, seems really, really fun and unique I think making the best of a bad situation. 

On the other side of the coin, I guess. Right? On the other side of the token, whatever that colloquialism is,  I’m sure, as you mentioned, a lot are struggling. A lot of nonprofits are struggling to deal with the new technology and more competition. Have you noticed a particular…I don’t wanna name businesses or specific industries, but have you named maybe a particular type of fundraising event or anything like that that’s really struggled to pivot in COVID and some brainstorming ideas for how to help?

Stephenie Stevens: Yeah. So a lot of organizations still relied on the traditional gala, you know, pack the people in, give them that chicken dinner,  have some live music. And they still relied on that. Well, you can’t have that anymore. You know, gatherings I think in Westchester are, you know, 10 people or less. So, you know,what’s an organization like that to do? And some of them are finding unique ways around it, and other ones just can’t get past the idea of, you know, we need to do this. 

I know one organization traded their gala for an online bingo which is great. It got money in. But it just recently happened. So, I don’t know what the comparison was from their gala to the bingo night. I suspect what’s going to happen is even with online events, these organizations are gonna have to do more events because they’re gonna get smaller turnout and they’ll have to do multiples of those.

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. That’s certainly been my experience with some of the clients that I’ve been supporting with tech support to help them figure out how to pivot to an online platform is that there’s still a commitment to them, but they’re not getting the big plate dinners and the like, that you could get or the in-person auction where Weekend for Four at this resort brings two or two and they just don’t have that. ’cause one, nobody wants to go to a resort. And two, they’re not there to talk. Let me ask you…Go ahead.

Stephenie Stevens: Do the whole adage of you can’t put all your eggs in the same basket anymore. 

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. That’s something we hear a lot about is multiple revenue streams and making sure that the organization has a different way to fundraise and create profit. Yes. Even though it is a nonprofit, it still needs to bring money in the door. 

I want to ask you about folks who do want to support charities. We hear a lot from our audience about folks who want to support local, but just don’t know the lay of the land when it comes to which grassroots organizations mom and pop style charities are really doing good in and around Chester County.And I wondered if you had any guidance on how you can, how folks can kind of quickly and reasonably vet a nonprofit for a donation. And I don’t mean, you know, I want to leave 200,000 to a nonprofit, but you know, I’ve got 500 or a thousand at year end or 250. So it’s not huge money, but I also don’t want to give it to some organization that’s just gonna turn around and, you know, give somebody a not earned raise or something inappropriate. Can you share some tips and guidance on that?

Stephenie Stevens: Absolutely. So your most valuable resource when it comes to organizations and doing research on organization is actually your internet. There’s several websites out there. The one I use most frequently is a website called GuideStar.

And GuideStar will do all types of searches for you depending upon what information you put in. If it’s specific information that you’re looking on a specific organization, just type the name of the organization and it’ll give you the results back. If It’s a specific field of interest for, you know, you wanna give money to the environment, you can actually say, I want to look at environment organizations and I wanna look at ’em within this mileage, you know, radius and you can say, oh, I want 15, I want 10, or therefore, you know, anything like that. And it’ll give you all of the organizations that are coded as environmental within that parameter, and you can start doing your research there. 

And then go to the organization’s website. You know, they wanna make, you know, the ultimate goal for any nonprofit is they need to be as transparent as possible. So they’re gonna put up that information that you need to see and understand. And I always tell people, you know, you can certainly give with your heart. That’s not a problem. But also you wanna think logically about this. You wanna kind of treat it like a little bit like an investment. You’re investing in this organization. 

Joe Casabona: I think that’s a really good advice, really good information. And that’s guidestar.org, right? 

Stephenie Stevens: Yes.

Joe Casabona: So I will make sure to link that in everything we’ve talked about in the show notes ove at [startlocal.co]. But I know that, I mean, I think a lot of us probably, this is why Liam asked the question, struggle with that, you know, it’s, you hear about a nonprofit that seems like a good worthy cause. But you’re just not sure. So I’ve never heard of GuideStar before and I’m really excited to look into it because so far, I felt kind of limited in who I can donate to.

Stephenie Stevens: And then the other one I would say is there’s several organizations in Chester County, like the Chester County Community Foundation, which is where I work for. 

If you’re up towards Phoenixville, there’s the Phoenixville Health. 

If you’re out towards Coatesville, there’s the Brandywine Health Foundation. 

And this is our business. We’re working with nonprofits every day. So we’re collecting information from them. And, you know, just an example, in our case, we’ve collected proposals from organizations to find out exactly what they need and what dollar amounts, you know, they’re kind of looking for. And we make sure that we post it on our website so that if you’re interested in finding out, you know, who needs something in your backyard,  you can actually always go to one of the, you know, one of these websites, even United Way, you know, they have a list of, you know, what organizations and what they need. And you can do some research there. 

Liam Dempsey: Stephenie, this has been fantastic. Really, really helpful covering what the lay of the land is for nonprofits in and around Chester County and how folks can support them. Before we say goodbye and wrap this all up, can you share where folks can find you online and find the Chester County Community Foundation online?

Stephenie Stevens: Sure. So our web address is [chescocf.org]. If you don’t put the CF in there, you’ll end up on the county government site. But, you know, you’ll go in there. It’s very user-friendly. You can see, you know, there’s a button that says find and type in what you’re kind of looking for, environmental. It’ll come up with a bunch of stuff. You know, human services. Again, food pantries, you know, all kinds of stuff. 

Joe Casabona: That’s fantastic. And again, I will link to that and everything we talked about overall at [startlocal.co]. Steph, thanks so much for joining us today. We really appreciate it.

Stephenie Stevens: No problem. And, you know, if anybody out there has questions, that’s what the community foundation’s here for is we wanna make those connections. We want to make it a good philanthropy, a good experience for everyone. So, you know, give me a call. I’m happy to help out. 

Liam Dempsey: Thanks so much!

Joe Casabona: And thank you to everybody who is listening. Until next time. Stay safe out there.

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