From providing resources to victims of domestic violence to serving the LGBTQ community, there are dozens of Long Beach nonprofit organizations committed to worthy causes. But while those groups support the community, they can also find themselves in need of outside support.
One organization—a nonprofit itself—has spent decades in Long Beach committed to that cause. The Nonprofit Partnership was founded in 1993 to help the folks behind the area’s nonprofits strengthen their financial, planning and other skills so they in turn can improve their service to the community. So for the Nonprofits edition of the Business Journal, I decided to reach out to TNP’s executive director Michelle Byerly to learn more about the organization and the role it plays in Long Beach’s nonprofit ecosystem.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
HAYLEY MUNGUIA: To start off, can you tell me about The Nonprofit Partnership, how it started and how it serves nonprofits here in Long Beach?
MICHELLE BYERLY: Sure, so The Nonprofit Partnership started almost 30 years ago—this is our 29th year here in Long Beach—and we started through the Josephine Gumbiner Foundation. The foundation and a group of nonprofit advocates and executive directors really felt like there was a need for training and support for nonprofits in the community, and so we began as a program of that foundation. Five years later, we became what was then known as the Long Beach Nonprofit Partnership, and we started out with the same core programming that we do now, and really a very similar mission, which is just to ensure nonprofits have the resources that they need to be successful and impact communities. So we started out with training and workshops and consulting, and we still do that today.
The core of our services are still our workshops, our consulting work, customizing individual support with nonprofits, and also a big space that we fill is also serving as a convening and networking space.
In 2016, we did a little bit of rebranding, and that was when we dropped “Long Beach” from the name and became The Nonprofit Partnership, because we do serve across LA County. The majority still comes from the greater Long Beach region, but we also serve a lot of nonprofits and public sector organizations throughout the county.
HM: So what types of challenges do nonprofits face that The Nonprofit Foundation seeks to address?
MB: Nonprofits are such a critical part of the community, whether it’s providing basic needs to the community or arts and culture or youth programming or spaces for the community to connect with one another. Nonprofits range in size, from all volunteer run with no employees to 1,000 employees, and at every level, there just needs to be support.
So I think just understanding that nonprofits are so focused on their service and missions and serving the community that having a space where they can just learn how to organizationally be stronger—to do that has always been a need, and it continues to be. So the reason for an organization like TNP is because there are those nuanced things that nonprofits need.
There are a lot of trainers and consultants out there, but what TNP brings is a little bit different. It’s really that localized approach to the work, and the experts that have the knowledge in what’s affecting nonprofits here locally.
HM: OK. So how long have you been with The Nonprofit Partnership, and what drew you to this work?
MB: I have been there for six years in January. I’ve been the executive director for the last four, and I have worked in nonprofits for the last 20 or so years. I was looking for another way to give back but also be part of a community, and I felt like I had a lot of experience working in a nonprofit. So when I saw the opening at TNP, I felt like that was such a great way to be part of a community and help share what I knew. I saw it as a great opportunity to be part of the Long Beach community and also just to help nonprofits.
HM: What do you see as a success for TNP? Do you have any examples of what that looks like?
MB: One of my favorite things that we do is our Emerging Leaders Program. It’s a year-long leadership program for emerging leaders in nonprofits. There’s mentorship and also technical skills and courses, and we’re really just helping these amazing nonprofit professionals to see where they want to go with their career to continue to make a difference. We offer nine different topics, from strategic planning to financial acumen.
So as far as a success for us goes, we’ve heard stories from some of our emerging leaders, saying maybe the financial class we had was the first time they got a full understanding of financial budgets, and they were either able to take that back to their organization or potentially to a job interview or a new organization. The biggest takeaway from that group that I consistently hear is just that people are being given the confidence to be able to have a greater impact than they were having.
It’s just my favorite part of what we do at TNP—connecting people.
HM: Are there certain types of nonprofits that you tend to work with, or is there a broad range?
MB: We do work with all types of nonprofits, from foundations to PTAs to churches. We also work with the public sector—different departments in the city of Long Beach or the county, and so it really is a range. But I will say, maybe as another example of our work, we also are an advocate for nonprofits.
What I said about nonprofits being very focused on serving the people they’re serving in the community—let’s say you’re an organization serving seniors in the community and that’s what your focus is on, that’s who you’re going to advocate for. For us, the people we’re serving are nonprofits, so when things come along, like during the pandemic, businesses were getting certain resources. But we needed to step in and also ensure nonprofits were being thought of and brought to the table.
Being able to work with such a broad range of organizations, including in the public sector, has also allowed us to make connections between those groups. We’ve been able to advocate for additional resources for nonprofits and then partner with foundations or even the city of Long Beach, for example, to help be part of their capacity-building for nonprofits.
In working with the city of Long Beach and their racial equity initiative, we’ve also been able to help create what’s almost an incubator for very small or emerging nonprofits that are serving or led by communities of color that were impacted by the pandemic.
HM: That brings up another question I have. Obviously the pandemic has impacted nonprofits, just like it’s impacted small businesses. But can you tell me what that’s looked like on your end? What changes has TNP had to make during COVID-19?
MB: We have been going nonstop for the past two years. We have been very fortunate to have been able to continue. We basically, in mid-March of 2020, shifted everything online and have been able to continue to deliver the same services, and more, virtually. So all of our workshops have moved online. All of our consulting work primarily moved online, and we did step a little bit more into that advocacy arena, advocating for nonprofits to receive support.
Really what shifted was what we were providing to nonprofits. Normally, organizations pay for our services, so we were able to partner with different foundations and do more programming, either at a very low cost or for free for nonprofits, and we’ve had scholarships available for projects as needed for nonprofits. The question has really been: How are nonprofits shifting? So we shifted our programming to meet the needs.
We were trying to go as quickly as we could to put together trainings, and we were able to do a lot of that pretty quickly, from facilitating virtual meetings to contingency planning.
We saw a huge increase in the use of our workshops and convening spaces, especially in the first year and a half from the pandemic, just for organizations that had more time to attend events because, unfortunately, there was a slowdown for them.
HM: And as COVID-19 restrictions are lifting, I’m curious if it looks like things are going back to normal for you? And what types of changes from COVID-19 do you think will stick around for the long term?
MB: I think there have been some shifts, even in our programming. We’re starting to hopefully bring a few things back in person again.
More broadly speaking, it depends on the sector. Some nonprofits have gone back to providing services as they have been. But say, in basic needs—if there’s a nonprofit providing food services, they still may have a huge need. And for our arts and culture organizations, especially performing arts organizations, or even youth-serving organizations—I do think their return to what would be “normal” is just a little bit slower. They’re still not back up to the capacity they had been at before.
I think a huge outcome, though, of the pandemic is just the collaboration between nonprofits that has emerged—and the creativity. In Long Beach, for example, the Museum of Latin American Art is doing blood drives and different things like that.
I think that collaboration on programming and how nonprofits are working together—I think that hopefully will continue to stay. We already collaborated, and I think the pandemic increased the need for that collaboration.
To learn more about The Nonprofit Partnership, visit tnpsocal.org.