Community Service Blog

A Look at Finance, Fundraising and Board Practices at YW Boston

This summer, Victoria Glover'15 spent part of her S/RC Fellowship at YW Boston. With an interest in finance and as a long time Bostonian she reports about her experience working at such a venerable organization.

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For years, I would walk past the YWCA building in the Back Bay and assume it was a gym facility exclusively for women. I pictured a similar set up as the many YMCAs in the Boston area. Without the opportunity to be placed at YWCA Boston (YW Boston), through my fellowship with the Scott/Ross Center, I would have missed the chance to engage with an organization that has impacted the Boston and Greater Boston areas for almost 150 years.
YW Boston is an organization that hardly participates in large scale marketing. However, it has successfully made an impact on the lives of thousands of individuals over the past 148 years, especially women and minorities. YW Boston was the first to develop trainings for women in fields that were male dominated such as construction and secretarial operations. In addition to career and skill advancement, YW Boston was the first place where women from all races could come together, without facing the dangers those who supported desegregation faced during the early and mid-1900s.
As a finance major, I got to discover how to apply finance within a sector I enjoy spending my time in. One of the departments I spent my time learning about was development, which allows the employees to explore finance in creative ways. Development at YW Boston, consists of the grant making, donor relations and development staff, who work to generate money into the organization in both new and traditional ways.
I was able to witness one of the final products of the development team come to life at YW Boston's annual Academy of Women Achievers fundraiser luncheon, one of the biggest events put on by the organization. With over 600 attendees, the Academy of Women Achievers honored five phenomenal women who are leaders in their professional lives and through civic involvement. During the event, the attendees are asked to pledge a generous donation to YW Boston so it can continue to expand on the work its programs currently does within Boston communities. This year, within the one and a half hour event, in addition to the $200,000 raised before the event began , the organization raised $46,000, which was more than the previous year's goal. YW Boston proved that when making a long lasting impact in a community, people remember and become eager to support a wonderful organization.
With such a great introduction into the organization and physically being able to see what the Board of Directors and YW Boston Staff are capable of when working together, I was given the task of doing a research project by the Chief Executive Officer, Sylvia Ferrell-Jones, regarding board best practices. The goal was to research best practices of the national YWCA and the nonprofit sector as a whole, then report back what I found and how I believe the YW Boston board of directors can improve their leadership style. One specific topic she put an emphasis on was the board's role in fundraising.
In the nonprofit sector, fundraising is one of the main sources of funding for some organizations. If an organization is not successful at fundraising then they mostly likely will end up with limited monetary resources for the upcoming fiscal year. Grants are another source of funding for nonprofit organizations. Similar to applying for a college grant, when a nonprofit organization applies for a grant they are put into a pool of applicants with no guarantee of being selected. Unlike applying for grants, if done correctly, an organization can have more control of the monetary gain from individual fundraising. With grants, an organization is competing with other organizations for a sum of money that is not necessarily guaranteed.
Best practices recommended that Board Members are involved 100% in all fundraising efforts. No matter how the money is being obtained, each source of funds retrieved by the organization must have been earned with the best interest of the organization in mind. The board is not just a symbol of integrity like with some corporations, the board is strongly encouraged to work together with the development staff and senior management team to make sure the revenue goal is met. If the organization is having trouble raising funds it is the board's responsibility to use all individual networks possible to assist with achieving the fundraising goal of the organization. Board members who are not willing to go above and beyond the call of duty for the organization, might not be the best fit for the job. A sustainable organization is only as strong and effective as its Board of Directors.
Through being placed at YW Boston, I was able to witness the importance of adaptability, structure, and leadership. I learned how valuable it is to have a strong board presence when making big decisions in order to assure that these decisions are in the best interest of the organization. I discovered how important it is to adapt to the needs of the community being served, which YW Boston did by adopting two programs under the organization's umbrella that would have otherwise been discontinued. And I witnessed the power of bringing all departments within an organization together in order to put on one of the most successful large scale fundraisers in the history of YW Boston. It was an extremely beneficial experience and I look forward to seeing what other areas of need this organization decides to tackle in the future.