In the nonprofit ecosystem, many organizations feature equity and justice among their core goals, and in 2013, a few Cambridge-based non-profit organizations decided to come together to coordinate and increase support for each other’s work.
The result of these meetings became the Cambridge Nonprofit Coalition (CNC), said Darrin Korte, chair of CNC’s Membership and Governance Committee and executive director of the Cambridge Community Center, one of the earliest members of the coalition.
As an organization, Korte said, the group’s goal is to understand the issues in inequality so that they can directly address them and better develop strategies for building a city in which all members of the community have equal access to resources and opportunities.
Since then over 40 local organizations have gotten involved, and the work continues to progress, said Korte. In 2016, the organization assisted the City of Cambridge in a city-wide needs assessment, by conducting focus groups with residents often left out of these processes. Results of the needs assessment revealed the three top resident needs:mental health, housing, and financial security. The CNC is now formulating ways to work with the city to address these concerns.
“We want to promote the work of the non-profit organizations in the community so that they can directly address the needs of the community,” stated Korte.
Ben Clark, member of the CNC steering committee and executive director of Enroot said Cambridge is blessed to have so many non-profit organizations that can come together and collaborate.
“The steering committee meets once a month with leaders of the various organizations,” Clark said.“The meetings are a time for us to strategize and critically think of ways to make sure our work within the community is impactful and sustainable.”
“We want to make sure our work at the CNC can inform local decision making,” Clark said. “The city of Cambridge is serious about pursuing equity and inclusion and we believe our goals align with that serious goal of the city.”
According to Elena Sokolow-Kaufman, managing director of the CNC, there have been many success stories for the organization.
“Over the last two years we have grown from a steering committee of 18 nonprofit leaders to a membership representing over 40 organizations. In addition to convening leaders for the purposes of shared learning and capacity building, we are also engaged in local policy discussions.”
Recently the CNC became more involved in affordable housing conversations at the city level. They organized nonprofit leaders around a petition to increase access to affordable housing and submitted testimonies at the city council meetings. “This sort of work creates an awareness of the issues that directly affect Cambridge residents and builds opportunity for constructive dialogues to take place,” said Sokolow-Kaufman.
Since the organization is mostly driven by volunteers, Korte and Clark stated that one of the challenges is making sure the organization has enough volunteers to do the actual work. Since the volunteers are leaders of various local organizations, they are busy with their full-time commitments. Additionally, Clark noted that since the organization brings leaders from diverse organizations, at times it can be difficult to easily find one collective voice. While that can be a challenge, the organization utilizes the diversity as a strength in outlining broad community goals.
Clark stated that the private and public sectors are big sectors in the city and the state. However, the non-profit sector is not equally represented. Data shows that 1 in 6 jobs are in the non-profit sector. At the city level, there is a very active non-profit sector. Yet the non-profit sector struggles to have a seat at the table when it comes to discussions related to development. Clark’s hope is to strengthen the organizations that are a part of the CNC so that they can play a significant role in discussions at the city level regarding development and growth.
The CNC wants local organizations to be connected as they can benefit from relationships with one another. “Stronger together, as a unified voice,” she said. The CNC welcomes local organizations in the area to be a part of their work. If you are interested please visit http://www.cambridgenc.org/.