~ by Carl Oscar Olson ~
Everyone recognizes the holiday season as a time of giving. Families and friends come together to exchange gifts, good food, and fond memories. All too often, though, it seems that the act of giving comes with an expectation of reciprocation. Fortunately for the residents of Nantucket this is not always the case.
Enter the Community Foundation for Nantucket. The organization was conceived in 2005 and became an official non-profit in the eyes of the IRS in early 2006. Of course non-profits were nothing new to Nantucket, however it was clear that they needed some guidance and a helping hand. As in any community, there are specific humanitarian needs that must be met and, in spite of the best efforts of those who care, some of these needs were being under-served. Margaretta Andrews, a member of the CFN staff since 2008, puts it simply: “The Community Foundation exists to promote philanthropy of all kinds, to all worthy causes, and is becoming a resource for the entire island.”
On the Community Foundation of Nantucket’s website — cfnan.org — are four easy ways to give this holiday season. Donors can give a gift to support the operations of CFN. Donors can give to the Nantucket FundTM to assist island organizations deemed most in need. Donors can give to one of 36 named funds. Or donors can give the gift of giving this holiday season with a CFN Giving Card. These must be redeemed through the CFN website but can benefit any 501(c)(3). “It’s a way to get people to think in terms of giving instead of getting,” commented CFN Program Director Jean Miller.
With so many charitable organizations on-island accepting donations, it’s easy to be overwhelmed with having to choose. The Nantucket FundTMmakes it easy for donors to be sure their donations are going to organizations who serve the people they want to help, and that the money goes as far as it possibly can. It also helps to simplify the act of giving for donors who would like to give to a variety of charities. This is even more ideal when tax time arrives. Instead of generating a laundry list of documents and receipts, donors only need one letter to certify their donations.
The Board of Trustees behind the Community Foundation makes grants from The Nantucket FundTM at their informed discretion to deserving nonprofits on the island. “Our grants process has become more streamlined and sophisticated every year, and our Grants Committee visits each nonprofit applicant to discuss their grant proposals,” says Andrews. The community and its leaders indentify these groups at an annual round-table meeting. She continues, “Our awards are aligned strategically with what we learn from the community are the most pressing needs, and this year we will award at least $125,000.” At this year’s meeting, members of the community in attendance agreed that some of the most deserving causes were housing, mental health and substance abuse, public transportation, as well as childcare and diversity initiatives.
Housing and land are obviously finite resources in the world today, but even more so on Nantucket. That being said, there was no disagreement in the room that this was the most pressing issue needing to be addressed. It’s a problem that affects the entire population of the island, from buyers to renters, seasonal visitors to permanent residents. There is work being done to help curb this problem, but demand outpaces supply by a long shot, especially for those with their eyes on rental properties. This is an issue that impacts the workforce, all aspects of the community, and beyond. There was no agreement on specific solutions at this year’s meeting, but getting the conversation started was certainly an accomplishment.
Residents and visitors alike might look to Nantucket as a kind of escape from the “real world.” We all need some kind of retreat, solitude, and change of scenery. This, of course, can be a double-edged sword. Substance abuse is a growing problem in the country today, but especially in Massachusetts and even on the island. According to WBUR, an NPR affiliate, dealers can make double and sometimes triple the money with sales of the illicit substance on the island. This allure makes Nantucket a very tempting target for opioid dealers. The Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention, or A.S.A.P., is a non-profit on-island dedicated to providing leadership, education, and support to the Nantucket community regarding the prevention and treatment of substance abuse and addiction. Individuals in need of service represent an entire cross-section of the community: residents and visitors. Truly everyone is affected by this epidemic.
From a historical perspective, residents of Nantucket have always leaned hard on philanthropy. Being a very tight-knit community, giving to those in need has never taken a back seat. A few of the original founders of the CFN are still very much involved, and they would likely agree that island needs have changed significantly in the decade since its inception. Substance abuse, for example, was not recognized then as the serious issue it is now. Also the population has increased and diversified dramatically in the past ten years making the housing problem far more prevalent.
When giving to charitable organizations, there is always the lingering concern that your gift might not be put to use in an efficient manner. Donors need to be assured that their valuable gifts are not being frivolously used. All too often non-profits operating dangerously close to their margins. This can lead to services being negatively impacted, and weary staff members run the risk of burning out. In a recent article by Hez G. Norton, Three Essential Shifts for the Nonprofit Sector, this very problem is addressed: “…in order for organizations to be healthy and sustainable in the long-term, leaders and funders alike need to face up to the realities of what it takes to lead and manage organizations— financial capital, leadership development, learning and innovation, and a well-compensated staff. Nonprofit overhead has long been the elephant in the room. The expectations placed on nonprofits and their leaders remain high, yet the core needs of nonprofits are often discounted with the outdated rationale and culture of thinking that low overhead equals efficient and effective management. It is time for funders, nonprofits, and communities to support these high expectations by investing resources and, equally important, developing a culture that affirms the support of infrastructure and investments in leadership so that organizations can effectively fulfill their missions.” The Community Foundation does just that.
Perhaps the most important topic brought up at this year’s CFN round table meeting was the need for more informed voices from the community and beyond. All in attendance were asked by the Community Foundation to provide names and contacts of community members who could help shed light on more relevant issues in need of attention. Every member of the community benefits in some way from each and every charitable