Designing and Implementing a NORC Program
Guiding Principle # 3
A stable mix of public and private financial resources supports the basic activities and services of a NORC program.
Actions and Considerations
Develop a budget for your program. Before you can request funds, you need to know the costs of the personnel and non-personnel expenses associated with your program and the grants, in-kind contributions, and other resources currently available to support it.
Your budget should be transparent—share it with your partners so they are clear about how much you need, and what you need it for.
Begin early to develop strategies for stable funding. The mix of funding sources to support a NORC program generally shifts over time. Foundations rarely provide general support funds for an indefinite period, and earmarked public dollars are unreliable because they need to be renewed annually and are subject to shifts in the political tides. That means fundraising is a continuous program activity.
NORC WOW, a neighborhood NORC program operated by the Samuel Field/Bay Terrace YM&YMHA in Queens, New York, started with foundation support for three years, during which the program gained community buy-in. In those first years, program staff also advocated for legislative appropriations, which now support the program.
Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center, in Manhattan, New York, began in 2000 with a budget of under $200,000, all from New York City. By 2007, it had grown into a $700,000 program, with 57 percent provided by a combination of city and state funding and the remainder from multiple private foundations, a health care partner, and membership fees.
Crestmoor Downs NORC Program, in Denver, began with federal earmarks, then shifted to support from a private foundation and its housing partner, and is now working to get state legislation to fund NORC programs enacted in Colorado.
Plan ahead. Everything related to funding takes longer than expected—including cultivating sources, drafting and submitting proposals, and dealing with government and foundation decision-making and budget cycles. Raising money is a continuous process, even when your immediate funding seems secure.
Solicit community support. Along with providing essential resources, broad-based support conveys a message that the community values the program in its midst.
Example: NORC programs have found many sources of support in the community for getting out the word about their activities:
Banks, supermarkets, and other local businesses allow the NORC WOW program in Queens, New York, to post announcements about its activities.
Pharmacies pay to advertise in the newsletter of the Parkchester NORC program in the Bronx, New York, providing revenue that covers printing costs.
The housing partner at the Crestmoor Downs NORC program, in Denver, distributes the NORC program’s monthly newsletter, saving the cost of postage.
Track your in-kind contributions. It is easy to take in-kind contributions for granted—but if they are not documented, tracked, and acknowledged, they become an invisible good, fully appreciated only when they are withdrawn. In-Kind Contributions
Tracking in-kind contributions also helps you recognize when you are becoming too dependent on a single partner and need to find new resources to pay for an activity, especially when the need is growing. For example, the health partner of the Deepdale CARES NORC program, in Queens, New York, initially provided a part-time in-kind nurse, but staff recognized the need to expand the service and ultimately created a budget line to pay for additional nursing.
Involve seniors in fundraising. Because they know their own communities best, senior residents are valuable resources for generating significant revenue. Resident ideas that have worked in some NORC programs include establishing endowments or planned-giving programs, encouraging contributions through rent check-offs, offering plant-watering and cat-sitting services, and selling theater tickets.
Consider instituting fees. Asking support from residents is one way to establish their status as partners with a stake in a program’s success. There are many types of fees to consider—for example, instituting an annual membership or charging for activities, classes, and services. Be sure to include that revenue in your budget.
Some programs introduce fees early in their operations, believing it is more difficult to charge for something that has initially been free. But others, such as the Crestmoor Downs NORC program, in Denver, take the opposite approach; the program initially offered services without charge, then imposed modest fees based on what seniors said they were willing to pay as they recognized the value of what they were getting.
Keep in Mind
The most reliable funding stream over the long haul comes from state and local legislative appropriations. If legislation has not been passed by your state or local government, consider becoming involved in advocacy efforts to make it happen. (For more about this kind of advocacy, see Sustaining a NORC Program, Guiding Principle #5.)
Trying to launch a NORC program before you have adequate resources can lead to burnout, poor performance, performance too incremental to matter, or an absence of the data necessary to assess its impact. It may be appropriate to start some pilot activities or to take other small steps to build enthusiasm, but don’t try to tackle too much until you have the funding lined up to do it.
You will not get funded if you do not ask. Be confident and specific about what you are going to do and the amount necessary to do it. Ask for what you need to do it right, not just for what you can get by with.
Be wary of opportunistic funding. Pursuing funds just because they are available may commit you to activities that distract you from core goals or that you do not have the capacity to undertake. The funding you seek should fit within your program’s mission and vision.