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How to Work with Limited Resources


How to Work with Limited Resources

By Kate Brennan Homiak (Baylor University School of Social Work, 2005)


Escalating community needs at a time when resources of staff and funding are limited challenge many nonprofit organizations. Several nonprofits surveyed by the FASTEN research team, though, have developed creative responses. The bulleted list below provides a quick reference for the fuller explanation of each item that follows.


          • Network and share resources with collaborators

          • Utilize the resources and expertise available to you at local schools and universities

          • Develop relationships with government officials and policymakers

          • Help people discover ways to help you, either through small gifts of time or financial contributions

          • Be aware of what other nonprofits in your community are doing and how you can combine services, volunteers or staff

          • Don’t allow yourself to become “short-sited.”


Network and share resources with collaborators

Partnering with other agencies and churches creates a greater pool of resources. Collaborating organizations often share technology, volunteers, physical space, funds and expertise. An administrator of a health promotion program with a background in fine arts explains how she has obtained the information she needs for her program:


“I’m an organizer. I think I can get the people who have the health information. I do not have to have the expertise. I pull it in from the 35 agencies that come for the health fair. I am a networker, and I am a collaborator.”


Utilize schools in the community

Primary and secondary schools, as well as institutions of higher education, can often provide skills and resources to social service delivery organizations.  Some secondary and higher education coursework require students to meet service learning or volunteer requirements. Make volunteer needs known to local school administrators. Schools also can provide space for programming or after-school meetings. If your  organization needs help with accounting, budgeting, marketing, public relations, technology, research, social service or languages, college students may possess the skills required. In addition, some schools place a high priority on community service, so provide opportunities—from the small task to the specialized skill—where volunteers can participate. One FBO had a college technology class create a Web site for its agency. Check to see if your local college offers classes on fundraising, leadership development or grant writing for nonprofit agencies. The class may do a project to benefit your agency!


Develop relationships with government officials and policymakers

Government officials have influence and access to assist in the needs of social service organizations and to create policies that will impact program participants. Even if government funding is not desired, it is helpful for government officials to be knowledgeable about your program in the hopes that they will advocate for policies that will benefit your clients. Many administrators reported that developing good relationships with officials opened new opportunities for funding, legitimacy, visibility, support and community action. One FBO administrator interviewed emphasized the benefits of developing these relationships:


“Many organizations have an ongoing relationship with foundations and may be able to get that kind of quick relationship and quick response from a foundation. But for us, government is the quickest responder. And if I can go to a particular commissioner at a particular government agency or to people on the staff of the mayor or the governor or to the speaker of the assembly or the speaker of the city council, that’s how we got the program started.”


Create opportunities for people to donate in small ways

Volunteers want to believe their contribution to your agency makes a difference. This is your chance, as director of an FBO or church administrator, to create and publicize specific ways for community members to volunteer — and the more specific in task and time commitment, the better. Encourage your board members to develop, organize and publicize these opportunities, whether it is to raise money, help serve a meal or collect hygiene items. One small FBO we surveyed commented:


“Our board … [began a new] fundraising initiative … . We’re trying to get 200

people [to] donate $50 a month … and that gives you a $10,000 base operating budget. That’s what it costs to run the ministry … . Then you can go after grants and other things … but bring people in from the community to help support the ministry on a small, doable scale.”


This administrator went on to say that 10 people in a group who each gave $5 a month was another approach to achieving this goal:


“Just about anybody can do $5 a month, and I think a lot of times we forget that small donations like that on a regular basis go a long way because a lot of people say to me, ‘I don’t have that much, I can’t do a big donation.’”


Also, be sensitive that some community members will not choose or be able to give monetarily but still will want to contribute. Emphasize to such persons that their time and personal skills are valuable. They may need convincing that they have talents to offer. For instance, a staff member at a faith-based transitional housing program for formerly incarcerated women explains:


“A lot of people say to me … I don’t have any gifts or talents. I’m going, ‘Oh yeah, oh yeah, but you do.’ [We have a woman who] has come and done groups for the house for about a couple of years now. She does dream work, and she’s done it pro bono. I mean she comes in one night a week for 10 weeks, and she’s also been available one-on-one to work with some of our women who have …needed certain kinds of counseling issues addressed.”


Another example is parents who prefer to model for and participate with their children in hands-on ministries. Just mailing in a check denies them the opportunity to teach life lessons. Ask them to hoe in a community garden, plant flowers, read to children, teach basic computer skills, serve a meal — the opportunities for small, specific, family-friendly tasks are endless. Then, the check will mean something (and it may be larger!) because this is their ministry!



Think creatively about how to use volunteers and partners

Again, this requires consistent networking and information sharing with other agencies. Do you and another nonprofit have a summer program offered at the same location? If so, try to coordinate volunteer drivers and carpool participants. Are three different agencies each providing basic accounting classes? Can you coordinate volunteer instructors and location to maximize the services and convenience for your clients? One social service delivery program staff member learned that members of a nearby church were taking their children to the same events her clients attended. She called the church and organized a carpool for the lower-income children who needed transportation. This served her agency’s need and created opportunities for church members to volunteer on a short-term, specific basis.


Don’t be “Short-Sited”

Is your ministry facility situated where you can be most convenient to your clients? Consider consolidating services in a central location. This can eliminate transportation challenges for clients, who many times have no choice but to walk to multiple sites for assistance. In some cities, agencies jointly lease a building or share or lease from a collaborating partner its extra space. One FBO described its attempts to centralize services for participants:


“We’re trying to combine everything together to give a place to stay, get an education, give them job training … so that they’re leaving with a job on their hands.”

For other agencies, mobility and flexibility are better approaches to meeting clients’ needs. Coordinate with churches around the city, with each site providing a particular service on particular days of the week. Or, as was the situation with one FBO we interviewed, a mobile trailer provided the perfect “office.” They run a free-clothing service and were able to retrofit a large recreational vehicle and then drive it to different communities:


“We have a large recreational vehicle which goes around the city by appointments set up by the community counselors and the social workers, and it essentially is a floating store on wheels. And those clients get on, one family at a time, or one individual at a time, and they can try on, or take the clothing that they need. … Now, we could have them all come in to [the city], and it would make it much more difficult for them.”



Limited resources do not have to mean limited services. Brainstorm with your staff, clients and other nonprofits to think differently and creatively about how to pool resources and skills. As with the little boy who offered his two fishes and five loaves of bread to Jesus to feed the multitude, if we offer what we have and the work is blessed, we will have more than enough.


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