“Resiliency is the capacity to respond effectively to change, to adapt successfully to new and unforeseen conditions and circumstances – and to seize opportunity.”

– S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation’s Resiliency Guide, March 2018

GHJ Nonprofit Partner Donella Wilson, recently spoke with Dena Jenson, Director of the Center for Nonprofit Leadership at California Lutheran University, to learn more about their new Nonprofit Resiliency Institute.

Donella Wilson: What was the inspiration for the creation of the Institute?

Dena Jenson: The Institute is specifically focused on Ventura County nonprofit organizations. In Ventura County, we have been grappling with gaps in per-capita giving compared with Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties for at least the past 20 years. Across the County there is a lack of sufficient financial reserves coupled with a lack of fiscal policy to manage those reserves. In addition, fundraising policies and strategies have not been directed to build reserves. The Thomas Fire and then the Woolsey and Hill Fires, which required local nonprofits to stretch and be of service, brought this into sharper focus and highlighted the need for Ventura County nonprofits to become financially stronger and more resilient.

Donella: How do you define resiliency? How does it differ from sustainability?

Dena: I see them as the same, more or less. The critical element is that financial discipline and fundraising acumen are brought together. The key question is whether organizations have the financial strength to play the role that their community needs them to play when a natural disaster occurs. How can nonprofit organizations find more creative ways to attract funders? This is particularly relevant to Ventura County because it is expensive to live here, and so it is harder to keep talent. This impacts succession planning as the numbers twos and threes are leaving the sector – and sometimes the community – instead of staying to lead.

Donella: How will success be measured?

Dena: Ventura County nonprofit organizations apply for participation in the program, which is led by a group of nonprofit experts. A leadership team of staff and board leaders from each organization will participate in various half-day sessions, supported by coaching calls. These are big cultural shifts, and so it is important to have the commitment of all levels of leadership in the organization. Assessment includes process and outcomes goals, and the Institute will be tracking individual organization’s goals throughout the program. One of the hopes is that interim outcomes will be able to be communicated to foundations and other funders with the goal of creating reserve funds. Ventura County ceded ground in the discipline of endowment building during the last recession, and now we need to talk more about the power of endowments and long range strategies. We need to help nonprofit organizations and their funders move away from program and project fundraising to focus on reserve building. This will help nonprofit organizations gain financial strength to better prepare for, withstand and adapt to future challenges and opportunities.

To learn more or to apply for a future cohort, click here.

Wilson Donella halfbody

Donella Wilson

Donella Wilson, CPA, leads GHJ’s Nonprofit Practice and is also President and Chief Philanthropy Officer of GHJ Foundation, GHJ’s vehicle for purposeful and proactive giving to the community. A leader in both the nonprofit and accounting communities, Donella was named a finalist in the 2021 Los…Learn More