Nonprofit boards face numerous challenges around board diversity, recruiting, fundraising, succession and limited resources. GHJ's new Nonprofit Board Series will offer practical insights for nonprofit board members to improve their operations. One way nonprofits can address common challenges while expanding their reach is with a community advisory council (CAC).
In this installment of GHJ’s Nonprofit Board Series, GHJ Nonprofit Practice Senior Manager Amy Eybsen talks to Jessica Muñoz, Esq., MFS, Executive Vice President and Riverside County Executive Director for Voices for Children (VFC). VFC serves children in foster care in San Diego and Riverside Counties in California. Amy and Jessica discuss VFC’s mission and how it benefits from a CAC.
Amy Eybsen: First of all, can you give some background on VFC and its mission?
Jessica Munoz: VFC’s mission is to transform the lives of children who have been abused or neglected by providing them with Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs). CASAs are volunteers from all backgrounds who make a commitment to advocate for the needs of the child or sibling group with whom they are matched. A CASA gets to know a child’s situation, communicates with professionals on the case and makes sure each child’s needs are being met.
Over time, a CASA often becomes the most consistent person in a child’s life. At the regular court hearings required for all children in foster care, CASAs report on the child’s progress and needs, which is essential for judges to make the best decisions for their futures.
AE: What is the specific need in your region, Riverside County, for CASAs?
JM: Each year, nearly 4,000 children spend time in foster care in Riverside County. Children are referred to VFC by the judges who oversee their cases or by social workers, caregivers and other important people in the child’s life. Occasionally, a child, usually an older teen, will request a CASA for their case.
Today, there are more than 100 children waiting for a CASA volunteer in Riverside County. We always need more community members to serve as CASAs, and our CAC members help us spread the word.
AE: How and when did the VFC Riverside County CAC start?
JM: VFC began serving Riverside County in 2015 and started to form our CAC a few years later. The purpose of the CAC is two-fold:
1. To integrate local perspectives into how we serve our community
2. To develop community leaders who can serve as ambassadors for our organization and mission
We created the CAC because it is important to us to be responsive to the needs of the communities we serve and to engage with community leaders who can help us tell our story.
AE: What is the role of a CAC member?
JM: VFC asks members of the Riverside County CAC to provide insight, advice and support to VFC’s mission. Areas in which VFC may seek advice include:
• Expanding development efforts
• Amplifying volunteer recruitment
• Ensuring VFC’s services are responsive to the specific needs of children and families in our community
Ambassadors are invited to serve because they:
• Have substantial knowledge of the communities and geographic diversity within Riverside County
• Have professional expertise that benefits VFC or are recognized as a community leader who can bring awareness and recognition to
the work of our CASA volunteers
AE: What are some of the ways that VFC — and nonprofits in general — benefit from a CAC?
JM: Our members help with recruiting volunteers, spreading the word about the organization and its mission, fundraising, forming corporate connections, networking and providing introductions and knowledge or insight into the community.
AE: What are the benefits of having a CAC in addition to a board of directors?
JM: The CAC is a good introduction to an organization. It supports a nonprofit in recruiting potential committee and/or board members, fundraising, finding wider support for the organization and maintaining a localized perspective.
AE: CACs can allow organizations to be more inclusive and have a broader range of supporters who may want to do more than donate and volunteer but who may not have the ability or desire to join a board at this point. Time constraints, large give-or-get requirements and lack of experience can make board membership intimidating. I have personally appreciated the opportunity to join the CAC, and it allowed me to expand my network in my community, give back and learn about committee membership.
For more information about CACs and the challenges facing board members, please reach out to GHJ’s Nonprofit Group.