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Local Nonprofit Council Organizing; Launch Meeting Held



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Just over a year into his job as director of the C.H. Booth Library, Douglas Lord has realized he is an institutional steward in a community he has grown to care about very deeply.

He said as much in the first few minutes of an organizational meeting he arranged with the eventual hope of facilitating the inception of a local nonprofit council.

“I feel like I have finally found my home here in Newtown,” Mr Lord said. “I felt I always needed to be somewhere, and I feel like here is that somewhere.”

The library director said he has worked in a number of other communities, but his deep affinity for Newtown caused him concern when he attended a pair of community conversation events hosted by the Newtown Center for Support and Wellness as part of its Healthy Community initiative.

During those gatherings, particularly the latest on February 1, he began detecting a need for a place where all of Newtown’s nonprofit representatives could gather and formulate ways to work better together and complement each others’ services, instead of competing — like by hosting important events on the same day or in close proximity because one was not aware what the others were doing.

He also saw how a nonprofit council could help individual charities and service agencies to maximize what they do best, while avoiding duplication of services.

In a solicitation memo to a number of local agencies, Mr Lord wrote, “While this may be only a temporary organizational solution to a (hopefully) ongoing effort, it could be an important first step in creating a larger organizing body of nonprofits — a Newtown Nonprofit Council — through which we can all share information, dates, news, etc.”

In welcoming more than two dozen attendees to his March 22 organizational meeting, Mr Lord opened by recognizing how important each one’s volunteerism or passion for service was to the community.

“You’re each making Newtown a better place,” he said.

Mr Lord clarified immediately that he was not seeking to be the leader of a local nonprofit council, while at the same time recognizing the key role the Booth Library could play in at least establishing such an effort.

“I think we can bring a lot of groups to the table together,” he said of the library, “and we want to be the table.”

Sorting Out Details

In taking the initial organizational stab at beginning to explore the viability and sustainability of a nonprofit council, Mr Lord admitted that he and the group might begin by simply “figuring out what this thing is and what it’s going to do.”

To that end, after opening the floor so each of the attendees could introduce themselves, and if applicable, the organizations they represented, Mr Lord suggested each individual consider a few things, including how often the council might meet.

By consensus, most indicated quarterly would be sufficient.

Another important point of discussion centered around how members of the group would communicate amongst each other as well as to the Newtown community at large. Mr Lord suggested the council could serve as an important resource as local agencies and causes worked to recruit and sustain their own volunteers as well.

Turning to the issue of competing interests, Mr Lord and a number of attendees said they were keen on creating or adopting some type of long-term calendar so when a nonprofit is in the planning stages for an event or fundraiser, organizers could consult that document or website to ensure they were not scheduling against another activity already announced.

As the meeting concluded, Mr Lord pledged to stay in touch with those attending and other nonprofit leaders with ideas for where to go next.

Next Tentative Steps

Looking back on that first organizational attempt, Mr Lord said he was humbled to be in a room with so many passionate and philanthropic community members.

“Having all those strong, charismatic personalities in one room for two hours was great,” he said.

The library director said he found it interesting to see where folks landed in terms of their personal willingness and organizational readiness to move to some sort of next level, whatever shape that might take.

“Many of the attendees told me afterwards that it was a conversation that needed to happen, that what’s needed is a series of dialogues that can help direct Newtown’s many nonprofits towards a next level,” Mr Lord said.

Referring to a number of attendees who are well-known locally for their volunteer spirit as “the usual suspects,” he admitted most were “folks who I think of as pillars of the community.

“Though I did see some folks introducing themselves to each other for the first time, I saw what I hope was light dawning about possibilities for future collaborations and alliances,” Mr Lord said. “We’re all pushing for a positive Newtown, and in some ways, we can work together — or at least not at cross purposes.”

Newtown is an amazing community, he said, with plenty of concern and deeply meaningful work going on locally.

“But there’s not necessarily a lot of cross pollination going on,” he observed. “The type of communication that the nonprofit council can facilitate has been met with enthusiasm in larger places like Raleigh [North Carolina], Madison [Wisconsin], and Brooklyn [New York]. And those efforts really caught on and grew the community in ways that [exponentially] multiplied the ability of these organizations to help.”

Avoiding Burn Out

Mr Lord said his work in other communities made it easier for him to quickly realize that while there is not a damaging amount of siloing going on in Newtown, there appears to be at least some duplicated efforts.

“I worry that the many [community] leaders who are contributing a lot of their time to a bunch of different nonprofits might burn out or get exhausted,” he said. “As much as folks would like to rely on a piece of software or an online calendar to help fix things, there’s nothing quite like an old-fashioned get-together to energize, connect, and find new friends, allies, and partners.

“Moving forward with this group will probably be a bit odd, as the cast of characters may shrink, grow, and change as folks are able to attend and organizations discover new things about themselves,” Mr Lord said. “We probably won’t know what we’re doing until it’s actually happening.”

That, he admitted, goes somewhat against the grain of the stereotypical librarian, who tends to be more organized, planned, and strategic.

Pointing out that the group collectively identified a few themes, Mr Lord said it seems like the “volunteerism piece” was shared universally.

“So my immediate plan is to put together a best practices program about that topic — the who-what-when-where-and-why of attracting, retaining, and developing volunteers,” he added. “I do also hope that the co-working space that the C.H. Booth Library is building will be a good home base for these efforts.”

For information or to contact Mr Lord about participation on the council, e-mail dlord@chboothlibrary.org — or reach him by phone at 203-426-1561.

C.H. Booth Library Director Douglas Lord, far right, prepares to convene a launch meeting for a proposed Newtown Volunteer Council. Mr Lord hosted the gathering March 22 at the library, which drew about 20 interested representatives from local agencies, nonprofits, and grassroots causes.  (Bee Photo, Voket)

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