UGA, Greater Valdosta United Way Team Up for Virtual Nonprofit Series

Charlie Bauder

Thursday, July 8th, 2021

As executive director of the Greater Valdosta United Way, Michael Smith saw firsthand how COVID-19 has impacted nonprofits across south Georgia over the last year.

“Organizations couldn’t hold fundraisers, which not only affects the bottom line but makes it harder to promote the work a nonprofit does,” Smith said. “The pandemic hindered nonprofits’ ability to connect with donors, engage their boards, and raise funds, all while demand for their services went up. A lot of nonprofits have struggled to survive.”

Smith knew that, like businesses, nonprofit organizations needed to adapt in order to keep going.

“I wanted to advocate for our nonprofits and provide avenues for them to learn the skills they would need to successfully pivot in this climate,” he explained.

In order to provide that training, Smith called on the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, a unit of UGA Public Service and Outreach.

“I have participated in multiple Fanning leadership programs, and I believe in Fanning and what they teach,” Smith said. “I knew they could create something that would benefit organizations of all sizes.”

Fanning Institute public service faculty members Sayge Medlin and Julie Meehan created a four-part virtual series focused on nonprofit capacity building.

“We focused the series on key nonprofit issues such as understanding how nonprofits evolve over time, how nonprofit executives can apply the right leadership skills at the right times, how they can best utilize and engage their board members and how they can adapt their fundraising in light of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Meehan said.

Each session also included an opportunity for participants to work in small groups and action steps to take following the session.

“We wanted to make sure these nonprofit leaders left with not just information, but with actionable steps they could put to use in their organizations right now,” Medlin said.

Lauren Hurley, executive director of Girls on the Run South Georgia, called the session on the nonprofit lifecycle particularly impactful.

“I am educated on the lifecycle process but having a group of fellow nonprofit directors to discuss our struggles and successes with was of the utmost importance and extremely poignant,” she said. “As we are all dealing with the changes our organizations have faced during the pandemic and how the state of the world impacts the work we do, each director’s reflection on the success and direction of their organization was eye opening.”

Having an opportunity to reflect in an environment led by others who could relate, confirm and assist was also important, said Hurley.

“Fanning did a wonderful job in objectively listening, engaging and informing the participants,” she added.

The Greater Valdosta United Way made the sessions free for participants to ensure that organizations of all sizes could participate.

“We wanted to include as many organizations as possible,” Smith said. “I was very pleased with the diversity of organizations represented during the sessions. The Fanning Institute was tremendous in working within our budget and I am grateful for the support we received from Georgia Power and CBC Bank.”

The Greater Valdosta United Way and Fanning Institute have already implemented a second virtual series for nonprofit leaders.

“Nonprofits play a vital role in helping to provide social services and meet community needs,” Smith said. “Strong communities need strong nonprofit organizations, and I’m pleased the United Way can play role in helping to advocate for these nonprofits and provide additional skills and training that leaders can use in their organizations.”

The Fanning Institute can assist communities of all sizes in developing customized training for their local nonprofits, said Matt Bishop, director of the Fanning Institute.

“We can work with community organizations to develop training programs that will help any nonprofit build the foundation it needs to lead the way in addressing community challenges,” Bishop said.

To learn more about creating nonprofit training for your community, contact Sayge Medlin or Julie Meehan.