The Newark Resilience Initiative: Supporting Nonprofit Adaptability in a Changing City
When Mayor Ras Baraka gave his annual State of the City address this March, he spoke of a changing Newark. “We have changed the narrative about our city, and all over the country, the headlines about Newark are changing.” In the recent past, the stories told have been about crime rates, a failing school district, and the pitfalls of philanthropy. Now, economic development is a dominant storyline, with new investment, new construction, and a burgeoning tech sector in the city.
Businesses and government – providing necessities like jobs and education, groceries and snow removal – play a large role in the story of Newark and its residents. But over the past year and a half, we at Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF) have gotten to know another set of protagonists in the story: local nonprofits that meet critical and growing community needs. These organizations fill the gap between what public and private sectors can provide and what residents need to thrive. As the city’s own story changes, nonprofits act as vital threads in Newark’s fabric.
Since June 2016, Nonprofit Finance Fund has had the privilege to work in-depth with fifteen local nonprofits through the Newark Resilience Initiative (NRI), an initiative designed with and supported by Prudential Financial, whose headquarters has remained in Newark for more than 140 years. We worked with arts and culture, community development, advocacy, education, and social services organizations through workshops, consulting, and the deployment of $1.5M in flexible grant capital from Prudential to build financial health and resilience. While much of today’s grantmaking is restricted for specific program use, NRI flexible capital grants are different because they prioritize often hard-to-get dollars for supporting a health balance sheet by maintaining facilities, managing cash flow, seeding change, paying down debt, and building operating reserves. This new approach focused not only on building nonprofit financial capacity, but also on providing the flexible capital necessary to support financial health and resource needs.
Through this work we’ve come to appreciate the central role these organizations play in Newark’s story and the story of the local sector itself. The NRI blog series highlights a handful of the prevalent dynamics these nonprofits face and provide a glimpse into how nonprofit leaders—and their funders—can surmount hurdles, weather changes, and embark on new opportunities. The series addresses financial management questions like: How can nonprofits use financial storytelling to foster uninterrupted operations through leadership transitions? What is it like to sustain services funded by state and local government sources? What must leaders consider as they navigate new real estate opportunities?
Organizations rolled up their sleeves with NFF on financial management topics like budgeting and forecasting, cash flow planning, and improving financial processes. Some tackled strategic issues through building business plans, modeling funded growth, and evaluating organizational infrastructure needs. Reflecting on NFF’s work in the Newark community, the story emerges of a nonprofit sector operating with slim margins and a fragile financial safety net, but adapting and doubling down on their commitments to the people of this city. By staying focused on both mission and financial improvement, these organizations are tirelessly building their adaptability to serve a changing city.
We are excited to share these stories of the sometimes “behind-the-scenes” players in Newark’s narrative. Through continued partnership with Prudential Financial, we look forward to supporting Newark organizations as their own stories— and the city’s— unfold on, as Baraka puts it, “an indefatigable journey forward.”
Click here to learn more about the unique story of each participating NRI nonprofit and how they’re serving the Newark community.