“Optional” Service? Big Brothers Big Sisters Feels the Pinch

July 11, 2012; Source: Poughkeepsie Journal

Following the numbing national trend of nonprofit funding loss, constriction and closure over the last few years, Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of Dutchess County, N.Y. will cease to exist on Friday, July 20th, according to the Daily Freeman, because its last leg of funding has been kicked out. Administered by the Dutchess County Community Action Partnership (DCCAP) since 2000, BBBS has provided essential nurturing to children from poor and often one-parent households, with a chronic waiting list of children under age 18 seeking adult mentors and role models. Its last funder standing, the faith-based Amachi Mentoring Coalition, informed the BBBS program this spring that it would not provide further funding. Dutchess County grants and United Way aid went away in 2009, and the federal Mentoring of Children with Promise program withdrew its financial support last year.

Elizabeth Spira, CEO of DCCAP, was distressed about the “very difficult” choice to close the program, which required $10,000 monthly to pay for expenses such as two staffers, background checks and insurance. She stated that Big Brothers Big Sisters has proven worthy of funding: “We have a lot of successful outcomes for the mentoring program,” Spira said. “There is research-based proof that a child matched with an appropriate mentor for a year or more will improve in confidence, competence and caring, as well as performance at school.”

Several BBBS franchises have shut their doors recently or come perilously close, but not only from shrinking support: On the brink of closure, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northern Alabama cut staff but slipped through with increased local donations; Thumb Area BBBS (Michigan) will close at the end of July; and Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bluegrass (Central Kentucky) nearly closed this winter after its former office manager pled guilty to $435,000 worth of embezzlement, but reorganized under new leadership and survives in shrunken form.

The recent announcement from the Dutchess County BBBS falls on top of the closures of the neighboring Ulster County, N.Y. Big Brothers Big Sisters program last year (along with the closure of the Dutchess County YMCA in 2009). Bob Allers, Dutchess County social services commissioner, lauded BBBS for easing the burden on his agency, and described in stark terms the flow of dollars away from what many doling out funds consider “optional” endeavors such as BBBS: “You first provide mandated services, then emergency services and then optional services. And there’s barely enough funding for mandated and emergency services.”

NPQ would like to know what very important “optional” services are failing or are in danger in your area. –Louis Altman

  • Nancy

    As a CEO of a non profit that could be classified “optional” it is dis- heartening to hear that great programs like the Boys and Girl clubs are closing. In this harder than ever economy you must be diligent to tell your story and the impact your organization makes. You must have a solid strategy to make it known your organization is NOT OPTIONAL and believe it. Grant writing and fundraising also must not be an option. A good board of directors to assist with fundraising strategies is a must.

    Who is determing what is optional? I’d like to say to put out articles deeming non profits can even be considered “optional” is not a great way to help the industry. If my services were not provided hundreds of children and their families would go without programs, therapy, services, support, advocacy and council. Parents who find out they are having a baby with Down syndrome in our geographic area would have no where to turn, and no community to reach out to. In my opinion the Boys and Girls clubs “essential nurturing” for children poor and without good role models is NOT OPTIONAL.

    As the CEOs of non profits it is our job to keep the agency going no matter what unless you have exhausted all options. When non profits hire you that is what they are counting on. Lastly, Criminal activity must be stopped with solid financial controls, solid leadership and a good board for oversight.