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Why was the Community Leaders Fellowship created and what does it mean for the public?

Part 2 of 2

In Part 1 of this series, Ark Valley Voice covered the Jan. 12 kickoff of the newly launched Chaffee County Community Foundation (CCCF) “Community Leaders Fellowship”, introducing the six Fellows and their mentors. While the names of the fellows may be familiar and appear as the public faces of their organizations, the community at large may not be aware of what the new program means to each of us. In Part 2, AVV explains the origins of the program and benefits to be realized by these organizations and the public they serve.

First, meet the mentors

  • Jodi Hardin has been a Chief Strategy Officer, and Executive Director working to improve organization, community and child health
  • Michael Hannigan, Vice Chair, Chaffee Common Ground Citizens Advisory Committee
  • Megan Lombardo, Founder, Central Colorado Showing Up For Racial Justice (CCSURJ)
  • Kim Smoyer, Innovation Catalyst & Change Agent, Smoyer and Associates
  • Shelley Schreiner, Executive Director, The Alliance

Ark Valley Voice interviews (CCCF) Executive Director Betsy Dittenber

Betsy Dittenber, Executive Director of Chaffee County Community Foundation

Previously, CCCF Executive Director Betsy Dittenber outlined the basic idea of their newest program. A major focus of the CCCF is to help local nonprofits grow their capacity to serve their clients. This focus is also shared by AVV, providing consistent coverage of this sector in an effort to build community resilience and strengthen ties among a diverse population, facing multiple challenges.

The Community Leaders Fellowship is an intensive professional development opportunity for nonprofit and community leaders focusing on a specific capacity challenge in their organization. The process began last October when the concept was explained to the members of the CCCF nonprofit directors’ network.  The network is open to any leader among Chaffee County’s four-score or more nonprofits – there are at least 75 that CCCF has or is currently working with in a dozen categories.

What does the community gain from the Fellows program?

Clearly, the selected nonprofits in Chaffee County aim to see immediate benefits by participating – planning their work and working their plan, under the guidance of a paired mentor over the span of a whole year. Without such a program (and the deadline pressure it creates), too often organizations get caught up in the day to day workload of delivering their programs/services and chasing short-cycle fund raising without a game plan. Working with a cohort increases team-building (and provides friendly competition). It’s the ‘tide that floats all boats’, delivering  results greater than the sum of individual, good-faith efforts.

The community as a whole will see six organizations gain greater resilience and position themselves for the next stage in their organizational life stage. The public they serve will also experience the direct results. Further, this program sets a new standard for the up and coning nonprofits to help them grow from a kitchen table to one with the tools to better attract ongoing funding and increase their resilience.

Donors and grantors, seeing more sophisticated and stable organizations, with better governance help local nonprofits compete for better funding.  They also become more willing to increase the overall funding pie, which benefits both service providers as well as recipients in our community.

Qualifications for the Fellows Program and the selection process

  • Eligible candidates are those serving in a leadership and decision making role at an organization or community agency for which at least 51 percent of its programming is focused on serving under-resourced communities in Chaffee County.
  • Applicants should apply with a specific, measurable capacity issue for which their organization is committed to taking steps to address over the next year. Capacity issues might include, but are not limited to the following:
    • Revenue Diversification
    • Adoption of new technology that will transform the organization’s capacity
    • Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives to increase diversity of communities served and represented
    • Introduction of a new program model

According to Dittenber, “The main factors taken into consideration are if the capacity issue they wanted to focus on would have a major impact on their organizational capacity, and if they were able to commit to the program requirements.” Six applicants were chosen and one was asked to reapply after their time constraint was resolved. “For the pilot year of the program, we are pleased with the response and are excited to see the program grow in the future.”

AVV asks: what’s the “Secret Sauce” that will contribute to the success of this program?

At least three aspects make up the “secret sauce” says Dittenber:

  • Each ‘mentee’ has an assigned mentor, offering tailored expertise and keeping the mentee on track
  • CCCF is teaming up with the Central Mountain Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and the Chaffee County Economic Development Corporation (EDC). Potential collaboration increases the chance of success while leveraging the strengths and resources of each.

“As this is the pilot year of the fellowship, we are examining the content all three of our organizations are offering to the community to look for redundancies, unique learning opportunities and building the partnership organically,” notes Dittenber.

  • The program could become a perpetual motion machine, where graduates of the cohort can then reach out to others in the earlier stages of growth and share what they learned to multiply the effects.

“One key theme of the Fellowship is promoting a sense of a supportive peer community within the nonprofit sectors so that professionals can access support from each other and provide support to others. We have incredibly strong and knowledgeable leaders in our local nonprofit community. CCCF is inspired to foster a peer connection between these amazing professionals.”

Readers may ask: my favorite nonprofit is just launching or in early stages. How can it benefit from CCCF services?

While the focus of the Fellowship program is for those nonprofits looking to solve a specific roadblock, the CCCF has several other service offerings for those just starting out or nonprofits with more general needs, without having to commit to a year-long effort. Among them:

  • For those interested in a one-time learning opportunity, CCCF offers regular workshops and events, (with 2023 schedules coming soon).
  • For those looking to advance their career in the nonprofit sector, CCCF offers a more intensive learning experience like the 2022 Community Summit;  a full day of learning with a collaboration session.
  • CCCF is also available to offer feedback on grant narratives and provide consulting services to meet targeted challenges within an organization or board.
  • Organizations who are in the start-up phase can apply for fiscal sponsorship to assist with the financial and reporting aspects of running a nonprofit, while they focus on the programmatic start-up.

Dittenber’s vision as the program evolves

“I am grateful for the many mentors and leaders throughout my life who took the time to invest in me as a professional and helped me realize my potential. I hope that this program creates opportunities for those meaningful and uplifting relationships that will advance our local nonprofit leaders.”

“Our vision for the fellowship is that it will create measurable impact in the capacity of the organizations involved in the program.”

“There are a lot of nonprofit certificate programs and online resources that professionals can access. The fellowship is distinct from those opportunities as it is personalized to the needs of each fellow and meets the organizations where they are at. Every aspect of the program is based on the specific challenges and opportunities each of the Fellows identified within their organizations. The program will shift each year to be reflective of the needs of each new cohort.”

CCCF gratefully acknowledges

“The CCCF board as a whole has been supportive. Wendell Pryor, while not on the board, provided the inspiration and encouragement to launch the program. His vision and confidence in CCCF to host the program is what drove us to prioritize launching the program this year.

“In addition, the pilot year of the fellowship was seeded by a grant from the El Pomar Foundation, for which we are incredibly grateful.”

“Finally, I am honored to be able to partner with such established organizations as the SDBC and the EDC who have a recognized track record with the business community and make more of their resources accessible to the nonprofit sector.”

How the community can help

“Looking forward, CCCF’s ability to offer the fellowship and our other nonprofit support services are dependent on the generosity of donors. Contributions to CCCFs Catalyst Fund provides direct support and professional resources for the local nonprofit community.”

“In addition, we are always looking for people with a nonprofit background to volunteer in a variety of capacities with CCCF. If there are folks interested in sharing their experience and wisdom, we would love to hear from you.”