August 27, 2011; Source: Modesto Bee | A daily newspaper chronicling the challenges of a nonprofit is unfortunately nothing new, but an editorial that explicitly makes recommendations to the leaders of a struggling nonprofit is more uncommon. In a recent editorial, the Modesto Bee in California highlights the current “survival mode” of Modesto’s Great Valley Center, a nonprofit think tank, and suggests ways to strengthen four key organizational areas.

Founded in 1997, the Great Valley Center was established in partnership with the University of California–Merced to provide support to the 19 counties that make up California’s Great Central Valley, one of the state’s fastest growing regions. According to its website, the organization maintains a broad focus on “helping communities develop a healthy and sustainable future, helping citizens and decision-makers make informed choices, and increasing the region’s ability to act on its behalf.” 

The Bee indicates that like other nonprofit leaders in this challenging economic climate, leaders of the center are doing the kind of self-examination that is “critical” to the organization’s future health. As background the Bee points out that the center’s founding director left in 2008, the organization currently has an interim CEO and “significantly less money,” and its building is for sale—all signs that would seem to confirm that the organization is undergoing an identity assessment. Acknowledging that they “fully expect” that the center’s leaders will narrow their “focus and scope” as part of this process, the Bee’s editors suggest four key areas that they say are the most critical to the future of the organization and the region. This list includes: training and encouraging new leaders with the skills to negotiate, compromise and govern; promoting regional approaches and efforts as an alternative to “local agencies competing for scarce dollars;” introducing new ideas, “presumably through technology to keep the innovative ideas flowing in and out of the valley;” and connecting the dots, or making it more clear to local agencies and organizations how the center’s economic reports can be used and implemented. 

Reinforcing their belief that the organization has played a valuable role in the community for the past 14 years by promoting “strategic thinking in a neutral, nonpartisan environment,” the Bee’s editors recommend that the center’s board members “do the same kind of thinking to map out a sustainable path for the center to survive.”

What do you think? Are recommendations from newspaper editors a useful way to generate discussion about the role of a nonprofit within a community? Should we be seeing more of this sort of thing?—Anne Eigeman