Home Nonprofits Cultivating a common voice for the nonprofit sector

Cultivating a common voice for the nonprofit sector

Joanna Straub is the executive director of Nonprofit Westchester.

The nonprofit sector in Westchester County encompasses more than 5,000 organizations.

Their work impacts all ages, touching on everything from the arts to education, health care to the environment, housing to social services.

And now, Nonprofit Westchester, a new nonprofit launched in May, has begun working earnestly to band these organizations – and their common goals, concerns and needs – together.

Its stated mission is “to strengthen the capacity, impact and visibility of the nonprofit sector in Westchester County for a more just and caring community.”

Leading the drive is Joanna Straub, a few weeks into her role as Nonprofit Westchester’s first executive director.

The veteran of the local nonprofit community – 10 years of experience, most recently as a marketing consultant to nonprofits – knows what important work lies ahead of her.

A visit with Straub on a recent morning was the chance to find out more about the organization during its earliest days.

The part-time post finds Straub well settled into her “office,” a corner cubicle donated by the Mental Health Association of Westchester in its Tarrytown offices.

She’s happy to have a home base, but the focus remains on the work.

“One of our primary goals, or primary points, is to have a voice to advocate for nonprofits,” Straub said. “The profile needs to be raised little bit.”

Straub said that too often nonprofits are stereotyped as being always “needy.”

“(You) go to a business networking event and everyone kind of scurries away from the nonprofit executive,” she said. “They don’t want to get asked for something.”

She wants people to know that the sector employs more than 97,000 people in Westchester – and has a $23.5 billion estimated economic impact on the community.

Nonprofits, she said, contribute by the “dollars and cents and through the quality of life.”

Nonprofit Westchester traces its roots back to more than a year ago, Straub said, when several in the nonprofit sector began meeting.

“They saw the need for the nonprofits to have a unified voice in the community.”

Nonprofit Westchester’s organizing committee includes members across the spectrum, from United Way of Westchester and Putnam to the Westchester Children’s Association, from ArtsWestchester to The Volunteer Center of United Way, from Phelps Memorial Hospital Center to the Westchester Library System.

Straub is clearly excited to have a key role in the initiative.

“I love shaping something from the start,” Straub said, but noted she is not starting from scratch.

“My job has really been to clarify their outlines and build on them,” she said. “Clearly there is a breadth of issues”

And those will come into sharper focus once membership grows.

“We’re very committed to this being member-driven,” Straub said, noting any nonprofit can join with membership starting at $100 per year.

Nonprofit Westchester will be a common thread, Straub said, that ties together large multimillion-dollar agencies with smaller operations.

“The larger ones, interestingly, have been among the first on board,” she said. “The smaller ones are a little more cautious.”

She said smaller organizations, though, might benefit more readily from some planned efforts, such as group purchasing.

“It sounds silly but hey, if you save $1,000 a year on office supplies, that’s significant for a smaller nonprofit.”

And Straub knows how nonprofits work, having been the director of The Volunteer Center of United Way, which she left in 2009 to have children.

“That gave me a sense of the scope of the sector and the wide range,” she said. “I was in the trenches and saw what it was like to run a nonprofit.”

Straub said she knows that cooperation is not a given.

“What I think has happened is we get set up as competition against each other,” she said, with everyone wanting to “get a piece of the pie.”

It’s understandable, she said, but Nonprofit Westchester “is an effort to combat that.”

For now, her job also includes doing studies, applying for grants and developing platforms that reflect all its members.

The next few months will shape things for years to come, she said.

“We have a lot to offer in partnership. We’re hoping to grow quickly.”

At present, she’s enjoying the challenges of helming this new organization.

As she said, “I have to do it all – but I get to do it all.”

For more on Nonprofit Westchester, visit npwestchester.org or call (914) 332-6679.


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