RALEIGH – The Down East Partnership for Children was honored by the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits with the 2013 Nonprofit Sector Stewardship Award. This statewide award recognizes nonprofit groups with excellent practices in ethics, accountability, and stewardship of the public’s trust and resources. The Center presented the award in front of more than 600 nonprofit and community leaders at its 2013 Statewide Conference.
Founded in 1993, the Down East Partnership for Children (DEPC) in Rocky Mount serves Edgecombe and Nash counties. It is dedicated to “launching every child as a healthy, lifelong learner by the end of third grade.”
“DEPC was selected because it offers a model of a nonprofit that converts a potentially devastating challenge into an opportunity to strengthen its organization and its impact,” said Jane Kendall, president of the N.C. Center for Nonprofits. “It shows how nimble and strategic nonprofits are when they focus on commitment to their mission,” said Kendall.
In 2011, when the N.C. General Assembly cut funding for both Smart Start and More at Four, DEPC suddenly lost $1.5 million of its annual budget. DEPC had to eliminate or reduce some services. Several staff were reluctantly, but thoughtfully, laid off.
The staff and board of DEPC could have hunkered down and whittled their services down to the barebones. Instead, they used the funding changes in Raleigh as an opportunity to rally their community and hone their focus. Two years later, they are a stronger organization with a clear sense of what matters most to their effective and enthusiastic band of champions and supporters.
“Our community built the Down East Partnership for Children out of nothing,” said Henrietta Zalkind, executive director of DEPC. “Now it’s a national model. Leadership is what lasts.”
Their approach was ambitious. Members of the Board of Directors stepped up as fundraisers and as advocates to ask them to tell others the story of DEPC’s local impact. They called on local elected officials and business leaders to ask them to tell others about how important Smart Start and More at Four are to their local communities. And, they all stepped up to help. All in all, more than 2,000 leaders, elected officials, healthcare providers, and early childhood professionals from Nash and Edgecombe counties signed a “Pledge to Protect NC Children.”
DEPC’s efforts to build a team of supporters and contributors are paying dividends. In 2012, when PNC Financial Services Group bought RBC, which had a significant presence in Rocky Mount, it made a $50,000 grant to DEPC in recognition of the bank’s commitment to the local community to renovate the playground at DEPC’s Family Resource Center into a model Outdoor Learning Environment. To help raise funds and local awareness, DEPC launched Coins for Kids, an opportunity for local businesses to put coin collection containers in their place of business.
Now, DEPC’s annual report lists dozens of individuals and local businesses as “Investors/Funding Partners.”
From the start, DEPC planned ways to keep all of its partners engaged. For example, its website now has a specialized section for “policy makers and investors” so that the organization can continue to communicate with these important audiences about specific information that is of particular concern to them.
But, they asked people to do more than give money or serve as ambassadors. DEPC called on community groups, parents, and others to help organize and lead a number of programs and services that otherwise would have been eliminated.
Community and faith groups organized pre-K and Kindergarten registration campaigns.
Volunteers stepped in to lead classes on money management.
“After years of developing a professional staff, DEPC took a risk and turned over real work to their volunteers,” said Meredith Emmett, who nominated DEPC for the 2013 award. Emmett is president of Third Space Studio.
The state legislation passed in 2011 did not just cut funding.
It also required clear evidence that the programs actually improve children’s health and literacy and parents’ skills. DEPC worked with researchers from the National Implementation Research Network to review and synthesize the evidence supporting DEPC’s success.
The well-documented results are on DEPC’s website.
“Evaluating its impact was not hard for DEPC because it had assessed for years the difference its programs actually make in people’s lives,” said Joni Davis, a member of the N.C. Center for Nonprofits’ statewide Board of Directors and vice president of Large Account Management at Duke Energy.
“Evaluating results is something that strong nonprofits do.
“The Center publishes a checklist of specific benchmarks to help nonprofits be effective and accountable,” said Davis. “Principles and Practices for Nonprofit Excellence” outlines good practices in nonprofit management, governance, and leadership.
DEPC is now tracking a cohort of children from kindergarten to the end of third grade.
The data show that children who participate in high-quality early education are more proficient in reading and math in second grade, and that strong social-emotional skills and family involvement makes a significant difference in school success.
“I have learned a lot of good practices on this board,” said Eric Evans, chair of DEPC’s Board of Directors and assistant county manager for Edgecombe County. “We evaluate our CEO’s performance annually and track whether board members actually did what they said they would do.”
“This nonprofit exemplifies good financial management in using careful division of accounting duties among several people. This separation of duties helps ensure accuracy and prevent fraud,” said CPA Walter Davenport, who serves on the N.C. Center’s statewide Board of Directors.
Davis and Kendall presented the Nonprofit Stewardship Award.
Accepting it for Down East Partnership for Children were Henrietta Zalkind and Eric Evans.
The other 2013 Nonprofit Stewardship Award winners are Carolina Tiger Rescue in Pittsboro and the Literacy Council of Buncombe County in Asheville.
The winners receive recognition from nonprofit leaders across the state and from elected officials at the local, state and national levels.
Prudential Financial, Inc. sponsors the awards.
This allows the Center to present each winner with $500 to invest in professional development for its board and staff, and a commemorative work by Durham artist Galia Goodman.
Founded in 1990, the Center works to enrich North Carolina’s communities and economy through a strong nonprofit sector and nonprofit voice. It serves as an information center on effective practices in nonprofit organizations, a statewide learning network for nonprofit board and staff members, and an advocate for the nonprofit sector as a whole.
It is the leading voice for nonprofit organizations across the state.
For more information on the N.C. Center for Nonprofits, its statewide conference or this award, contact Trisha Lester, vice president, at email@example.com, 919-790-1555 ext. 104, or 919-971-5423. Also visit its website at www. ncnonprofits.org.