Eastern Cowley County Resource Center

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Confessions of a Nonprofit Director

Posted on September 10, 2015 at 12:15 AM

By Lynn Pettigrew Norris

Part One -


The next time you see a notice (requesting volunteers or funding) hanging on the window of a nonprofit, especially if the “Closed” sign is hanging on their door, please consider the things that I am about to write. First, I must confess that I am not feeling very joyful today. Usually on days like today, it is just better for me to be somewhere along a country creek instead of in public. It is better that I remain off from any social media and far away from meetings or any community program contact. Even so, may I offer these thoughts today about what it is really like to run a non-funded nonprofit behind the scenes.


The fact that there is a notice that says VOLUNTEERS NEEDED should be the same to the reader as reading: “Please help us, we are about to die here from our own volunteer time. We hold down full-time jobs when we are not here. The extra workload of all the many various aspects of the nonprofit is heavy. Besides all the various duties that have to be carried out, no one ever tells the director “thank you” for any time that is personally spent volunteering. No matter how hard of a workday it was, the director must be sure to thank everyone else. Sometimes when the crowd is gone, there is nothing left to do but cry.


A nonprofit is really no different from any other business that you may do business with. Either things are sold or services are sold in a for-profit business. The same is true of a nonprofit. The difference is that the nonprofit has a mission statement which describes the services that are offered to the public free of charge. If anything is sold in a nonprofit, it is in order to put those funds back into the nonprofit to help with the operating costs.


Things that must be done on a continual basis rather there are volunteers or not is that the place has to be cleaned. In our case, there are three buildings to keep clean and running. The main building is a place where literacy programs are carried out. There is a computer lab and a community library. Children come in all the time for organized reading clubs as well as individually to use the library. Children learn and play in the facility. This produces educational areas that must be cleaned and kept very clean. The children of course also use the bathroom facilities as well, so those must be kept clean. There are snacks to purchase and sometimes lunches. Children need something to drink and in some cases they are hungry and need juice and breakfast items. The program needs educational supplies which include construction paper, glue, ink for the printers, markers, paint, and many other supplies. There are plastic storage containers to purchase and keep clean. The list goes on and on.


The entire facility must be swept with a sweeper each week. Everything must be dusted. The facility has an upstairs which has a computer lab. That area is used by the public. It must be cleaned. The cost of the printer ink cartridges is very expensive. This is a continual expense. There are many other office expenses to keep the business going. Stamps much be purchased on a monthly basis to pay the many bills that come in. The bills include the following: electric bill, gas bill, water bill, sewer bill, trash bill, building insurance bill, vehicle insurance (for the van that was purchased for the food bank, thrift store, and library), cleaning products, food items for children, craft items, program expenses, curriculum, upkeep which includes a major purchase almost every much such as a refrigerator, heater, water heater, etc. The bills average $1,500 every month.


A small thrift store was built after the founders secured a personal loan of $8,000 for building materials. Donations were made by the founders to pay hired help to get the store and the small cabin built. Another loan of $4,000 was secured to help purchased needed building material. The founders have been paying off these loans for several years. The store must be heated and cooled. Many, many advertisements were run in local newspapers that ran up a lot of bills. Signs were made. These bills average $80 a month. When no ads are run, no one comes in to shop. Last week $10 was made from the store. This was the main sustaining project but obviously, it is not helping with anything.


The thrift store adds a new element of work. Volunteers are needed to sort the donated items. They must be hung up and priced (if clothing). The workload is great for the store. There is a lot of lifting, sorting, and putting up displays. Seasonal items must be changed out for each season or holiday. An online presence must be maintained on a website in order to post updates, sales, and products.


There is a rental cabin which comes with a lot of work involved. The rental cost per night is $45.00. It takes on average three-and-a-half hours for one person to pull all the soiled bedding and towels out of the cabin along with the trash and to clean it. The cabin has a loft where two beds must be changed. Each time someone stays, all bedding including the mattress covers and bedspreads are pulled and laundered. There is a kitchen and bathroom with a tub to clean. The kitchen has a cook stove with an oven, microwave, dishes, and shelves to clean. Fresh towels and soap items have to be put out.


One person could never run this nonprofit. It was never set up like that. For example, if someone books the cabin, that ties one person up for most of half a day. That person will be very hot and tired and their clothing will be very dirty by the time the cabin is clean. There is no way that person could then continue to volunteer in the thrift store or library on any day when the cabin needs to be cleaned. It is very difficult to climb the stairs to the loft in the cabin and carry bedding up there. After much experience, the goal is to make sure to get everything needed in one trip up there.


I have a neck injury, so washing down the bath tub and shower area produces a lot of pain. Add in running the sweeper, mopping and everything else included, and this has all become way too much work without volunteers. Someone commented that they knew that I received disability for my neck which is not true at all. I have worked my whole life which includes the past several decades after a car wreck that injured my neck and have never applied nor received any disability payments. This is very hurtful that people start such lies.


These types of rumors have caused things to be twice the work. It is very hard to try to ask for donations and funding when others are working hard to tell others that we are fully funded. One day the message came back to me that we did not need anything – that we received a lot of grant funding which couldn’t be farther from the truth. In all the years, very little has been secured in grants. For example, so far this year we have received no grant money. Last year we received $3,000 out of the $23,000 that it cost to keep the doors open.


Recently, we sold the bull from our cattle herd. On top of that, we donated $1,000 to pay for the utilities and bills that were due or late. We have never made public the personal sacrifice that this project has cost our family, but we have reached the point in our lives where we cannot continue. It has been a big sacrifice that we were willing to make. For the past several years, we have not had a kitchen in our own home because we have not had the time or funds to put one back in after tearing an old one out. When no one donates funding for the nonprofit and volunteers who are the life-blood of the organization don’t step up for some of the workload, then this brings us to the point of some very important questions that need to be answered. We are at that point.


To be continued…


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