Recapping 2020 and Looking Ahead to 2021

Episode 4: December 17, 2020 | The Public Space

Jim White, Executive Director of the Nonprofit Association of Oregon and Jenn Clemo, Executive Director of the Center for Nonprofit Stewardship join Lilisa Hall to recap 2020 and anticipate what’s ahead for the nonprofit sector in 2021.

Show Notes and Resources

2020 has been a momentous year for everyone, including the nonprofit sector. Jim White and Jenn Clemo recap 2020 and discuss why and how they took the bold step of combining their organizations this year. We also look at what factors and influences will shape the nonprofit sector’s landscape in 2021 and how nonprofits can approach the new year.

In this episode:

  • 2020 standouts for NAO and Oregon (2:25)
  • Looking ahead at 2021 (4:34)
  • Americans’ trust in nonprofits (6:30) 
  • NAO-CNS merger “mini” case study (9:09)
  • How nonprofits can position for long-term sustainability (13:37)

Additional resources:

About Our Guests

Jim currently serves as the Executive Director of the Nonprofit Association of Oregon. He began this assignment in October of 2012. Jim is deeply committed to social change and has worked in the nonprofit sector both domestically and internationally for more than 20 years. He has a passion for affecting systemic change in the way that the public, private and nonprofit sectors work together to support and strengthen civil society. He is specifically skilled on working to build alliances and partnerships with mission and results driven outcomes in mind.

Since February 2018, Jenn Clemo has served as the Executive Director of the Center for Nonprofit Stewardship, an organization that provides training and resources to nonprofits across the region. She is a nonprofit professional with nearly 16 years of experience in the sector. Jenn possesses a diverse set of skills in nonprofit management, with expertise in fund development, marketing, program design, and evaluation. Prior to CNS, she worked as the Development Manager for Rural Development Initiatives, a Pacific Northwest rural community leadership and economic development organization. Jenn has also worked as an independent consultant providing nonprofit capacity-building and grant writing services to a variety of clients in the Willamette Valley and across the country. Jenn is a graduate of the University of Oregon and holds a B.A. in English Literature.


Lilisa Hall: [00:00:00] Hi, everyone. Welcome to The Public Space, a podcast from the Nonprofit Association of Oregon. This is our fourth episode and the last for 2020. In each episode, we feature thought leaders who share strategic ideas and solutions that spark positive change in civil society. And we all know we need a ton more of that.

I'm Lilisa Hall, Membership, Communications and Advancement Director for the Nonprofit Association of Oregon. And I'm your host today. Today, we want to take a look back at 2020 as we wind down the year and look forward to what's in store for us in 2021. And I think it's safe to say that 2020 has been a momentous year for pretty much everyone.

You know, talk about COVID-19 the social justice movement, the Oregon wildfires and the elections. And so, Oregon's nonprofits have been significantly impacted themselves. They've had to adapt, pivot, and innovate. And many nonprofits, quite frankly, are struggling, and throw in some major political changes come January and we have some major factors and influences that will shape the nonprofit sector next year. Here to share his perspective and thoughts on 2020 and what's ahead for us in 2021 is our guest today - Jim White, who is NAO's Executive Director. So welcome, Jim, great to have you on The Public Space. 

Jim White: [00:01:24] Thank you, Lilisa. It's great to be here and I appreciate the opportunity to connect with everybody through our podcast. This is one of the things that we've done in 2020 that I've been very excited about and appreciate our team for moving this forward. 

Lilisa Hall: [00:01:39] I also want to welcome a second guest - that is Jenn Clemo, who is the Executive Director at the Center for Nonprofit Stewardship.

And some of you may be aware that NAO and CNS are combining their organizations under the NAO umbrella. So we are really excited and thrilled about this combination. So welcome Jenn, along with Jim, and they'll both be sharing some insights with us along the way. 

Jenn Clemo: [00:02:02] Hi, Lilisa. Thanks so much. I'm glad to be here as well. And I'm a big fan of podcasts. So this is especially exciting for me to be on a podcast with you all. 

Lilisa Hall: [00:02:12] Awesome. Well, thanks, Jenn and Jim. So Jim, as you look back at 2020, what would you say are the key things that stand out for NAO and Oregon's nonprofit sector? 

Jim White: [00:02:25] Well, I think as you alluded to in the opening there, we've had, what I would call a handful of crises and disasters. And by handful, I literally mean five. So we had the impacts of COVID-19, which are still racking our communities and causing havoc with the health of our people. We had the economic downturn that is currently really limiting the ability of communities to recover and nonprofits to recover and support those communities.

We've had the unfortunate wildfires here in Oregon that have ravaged many of, particularly our rural communities. We have a social and racial justice reckoning and awakening that has created some opportunities for discussion in a way that we haven't had in decades. And finally, and I think this is really important to note, is that before any of these particular issues of 2020 started, Oregon itself was relatively broke financially and in terms of its systemic way that it was approaching its basic human development index issues across the board. So, we didn't come into the year as strongly as we could. And across these five major crises that we're facing, I've seen nonprofits standing out doing amazing work, helping communities recover in a way that without their help, you know there, but for the nonprofit sector in Oregon, I, I don't even want to imagine what our state and what our communities would look like. 

Lilisa Hall: [00:04:06] So with that sort of background and foundation for, you know, 2021, Jim, as you look ahead, what are some of the things that you see are key challenges and opportunities for Oregon's nonprofit sector?  What do you see NAO focusing on in the next year, given that NAO is the state wide nonprofit sector association. What's your look at the crystal ball telling you. 

Jim White: [00:04:34] Yeah, I mean, a number of issues come to mind. One is, and Lilisa, you know, I'm a big advocate of looking at facts and looking at data, and what I can see right now is that there are things that just can't be known to us.

I do love the optimism that nonprofits have for the future, the way they carry that forward. But we have had very serious impacts on our sector. And we're just now trying to quantify what that really means and what that looks like for nonprofits. So going in 2021, I think we're going to have to see nonprofits being adaptable. We're going to have to see nonprofits, really listening to their community as to what the priority of need is for them. And I think we're going to have to see a new level of collaboration that we've not previously seen in the past. And as an example of that, you know, we started a conversation back in 2019 with the Center for Nonprofit Stewardship and Jenn and her team around what could we do better together as an entity together rather than being the sum of our parts as two different organizations. So, I think there's an opportunity in 2021 for organizations to look at these types of models and perhaps see if there's, if there's something in them for, for their organizations. 

Lilisa Hall: [00:06:07] So we'll come back to that in a second, but I want to also ask a question around public policy and advocacy. What are you seeing ahead for the nonprofit sector? Not only in Oregon, but nationally. What, what do you see changing? What's the outlook for some of the public policy and legislative work that will impact the nonprofit sector. 

Jim White: [00:06:30] Well, I think when we look at what just took place in the presidential election, for example, we have a very divided country that is going to need the strength of nonprofits to be able to have discussion across communities. In the general store in a rural town, in the streets, in, in a major urban city, to be able to have conversations across politically held values and, and, and to have those dialogues means something and nonprofits are better positioned than any other institution of civil society. Back earlier in 2020, we had that conversation with Dan Cardinali with Independent Sector and the  trust and civil society report that Independent Sector put out in June of this year.

And there is no other institution in America or in Oregon that really understands and has the trust of people as nonprofits do. And so, as I look at the advocacy opportunities that we have going forward, both in Oregon and the legislative, we have a long session coming up, where I know that the governor and the legislative leaders are going to be looking for cuts, because again, we're kind of broke as a state financially. We're also going to be seeing increased need because of that handful of crises I named. So I think that there is enormous, not only opportunity, but responsibility for nonprofits to engage in advocacy, both at the local, and of course, at the federal level, we're going to see, you know, a change in leadership at the White House, we're going to see different policies coming into place. And again, how is that going to be brought together in a way that all members of community are being served and some members - half let's say, 48% of our communities - are not being left behind. 

Lilisa Hall: [00:08:28] Yeah. A great response, Jim. I can, I can just see there's a lot of work ahead for the nonprofit sector, both here in Oregon and nationally to bring people together.

So thanks for that. I want to go onto the next question, which I think Jim, you were starting to sort of dovetail into this conversation around the CNS and NAO combination, and the work to bring the two groups together, hopefully by the end of 2020. So can you share a few thoughts around: how did the CNS-NAO combination come together; what did both Jenn, you and Jim go through; and I want to maybe start off with Jen to kind of get your perspective.

Jenn Clemo: [00:09:09] Sure. Thanks, Lilisa. So, it's been over the last couple of years that CNS and NAO have gotten more strategic about collaborating. And there was eventually a shift in the conversation where we began talking about a future where programs were integrated and staff were working across organizational lines. And, it got us really excited about the increased impact we could have if we unified our organizations. Initially, it was kind of scary to broach the subject directly. We talked about strategic collaboration and didn't directly discuss merging for a while. There were definitely moments of, you know, are you thinking what I'm thinking? And, it was actually at the Ford Family Foundation's Community Builder Summit in the fall of 2019 that we had some more candid conversations about it more directly.

We at that summit had exhibit tables side by side, and at one point, Allison Adcox, NAO's Director of Learning and Resources and I were at the same table. We were sitting side by side, talking with nonprofit leaders about specific challenges and opportunities they faced, answering questions about their organizations, and sharing resources that we could offer them. And, we kind of looked at each other and said, "they can't tell the difference of, you know, who is from CNS and who's at NAO." And people kept asking about, you know, our titles and things, and it was really fun to see that we could share and collaborate in that way. 

Lilisa Hall: [00:10:46] Thank you, Jenn. So, Jim, what did NAO go through as you all were having these conversations?

Jim White: [00:10:53] Yeah. I mean, at that Ford Community Builder Summit, you know, I was literally walking across sort of the floor there and seeing, Jenn and Allison sitting there together, talking, working with nonprofits. It really struck me that there's some combination here that I think could be incredibly exciting, would be strategic for both of us, for our organizations.

And, I think it's really important to remember that what is, what is really the possibility when you actually get into that scary space of talking about merger, you have to have really vulnerable conversations with the other organization. It's not just one person. It's not just, you know, Jenn and I have a great relationship, but we had to have our boards have vulnerable conversations and prepare them for that. We had to have our staff members, you know, understand what this might mean for them. And that can create a lot of anxiety. And I really appreciated the, the leadership that Jenn has shown and how she has engaged in this conversation.

And, you know, knowing that she could have just continued along with CNS, they were completely sustainable. They were doing great work and there was that opportunity to just continue as is. And we could have continued to work very closely in parallel sitting side by side, coordinating, and collaborating with each other.

But instead we realized the power of the two of us together was going to be even stronger. And so that's where we got to this place. So I think there's a real opportunity here for other organizations to look at these models and think about where can two thoughtful, powerful, useful, organizations come together and make an even better singular entity.

It's all about the mission. It's not about the corporate structure is what I want to emphasize. 

Jenn Clemo: [00:12:53] Yeah, certainly we spend a lot of time talking about how our organizations are similar, how they're different, what the future might look like if we unified and it really boiled down to the kind of impact that we wanted to make with nonprofits across the state. And, looking at the gaps and opportunities that each organization had before them and deciding that to bring the best of NAO and the best of CNS together would have the greatest impact for the nonprofit sector in our state.

Lilisa Hall: [00:13:26] So, what are two or three key actions nonprofits can take as they consider the long-term sustainability of delivering on their missions for their communities.

Jenn Clemo: [00:13:37] Nonprofits tend to cycle through this system in which successful programs result in more work, more clients, more work results in increased costs associated with staffing and such, which results in increased need for funding.

And then when more funding is achieved, more programs are successful and that results in more work and so on and so forth. So from my perspective, sustainability long-term for nonprofits is partially about finding balance in that cycle, not growing programs at such a rate that resources can't keep pace, not increasing infrastructure without the systems and processes in place to effectively manage.

And also, you know, just having enough, enough infrastructure to move programs forward in advancement of the mission, a development pipeline that generates enough revenue to keep supporting growth and outreach efforts that engage enough beneficiaries to keep making impact. I think it's really about that, that balance and scale at that point. 

Lilisa Hall: [00:14:42] Jim, what do you think are two or three key action items that nonprofits can take?

Jim White: [00:14:47] I think always go back to your mission. If, if your mission is being served and if you can make that sustainable, I feel like you're likely having the kinds of impacts that you should be having. And therefore, you don't have to grow. To Jenn's point is that scale is not necessarily a measure of success. It can be, but oftentimes, some of the most successful nonprofits, I've seen have very, very narrow missions to do very specific things and they just really excel at them. And so really digging into your mission and the programs and being honest with yourself, you know, when, when you're refining programs to fine tune them and get them to their best capacity to deliver on your mission.

That's when I think a nonprofit as being most successful. I think there are huge opportunities in crises. I'm a strong believer in that. I spent 20 years of my, my career working in crises and I see the resilience that people have, the resilience that nonprofits can offer. And if they are adaptable, and able to flex with the times and the available resources and the opportunities that they have in front of them. So then 2021 is very much an opportunity for nonprofits to see the glass half full and not half empty. 

Lilisa Hall: [00:16:22] Well, Jim, that was a great wrap, on, on that thought. So with that, I want to thank Jim and Jenn for taking time to join us for this episode. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and perspectives for the nonprofit sector.

Jim White: [00:16:37] Really appreciate it. Thank you. 

Jenn Clemo: [00:16:39] Yes. Thank you, Lilisa, for having me. 

Lilisa Hall: [00:16:42] In a nutshell, what I picked up was resiliency, adaptability, and flexibility are key words to live by and above all that we should approach 2021 with a view to seeing the glass half full, rather than half empty. Wise words for sure. On behalf of NAO, I want to thank all of you who work for, volunteer and support nonprofits in Oregon and beyond. 2020 has certainly been a momentous year, definitely one for the record books. And we sure appreciate all your great work, have a safe and healthy rest of the year and see you in 2021. 

The Public Space is a podcast from the Nonprofit Association of Oregon. NAO is the statewide nonprofit membership organization representing and supporting charitable nonprofits of all sizes, geographic locations, and missions across Oregon. Visit and sign up for our newsletter, for more information about membership, resources and our great network.

This episode of The Public Space is produced by NAO's Brad Ramos with support from Anna McClain.


The Public Space is brought to you by the Nonprofit Association of Oregon. NAO strives to connect, improve, and advance all nonprofits to help build a thriving and vital Oregon. Subscribe to The Public Space wherever you get your podcasts.

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