125 Live is a nonprofit organization that serves the aging population in Rochester, Minnesota and greater Olmsted County in southeastern Minnesota. The organization provides a wide range of programs and services geared to empower individuals 50+ to live on their own terms with independence, dignity, and a sense of fulfillment.
The organization was founded in 1961. Since its foundation, programs and services have been offered out of a variety of locations, the last, the former Armory building located in downtown Rochester. Last year, 125 Live celebrated one year in its new, state-of-the-art facility that provides the space needed to fulfill the three facets of its mission-help the aging population exercise, maintain physical and cognitive wellness and remain independent. Engagement highlights of 2016-2017 include:
- 7,300 check-ins in just October
- 16,000 miles on the cardio equipment
- 60+ group fitness classes
- 75% increase in art classes
"Not even wintery weather keeps our members and guests away," said Sally Gallagher, Executive Director of 125 Live. "They love having a place to go for camaraderie with their peers. One's support system can significantly diminish later in life, especially for those 80 years and older. 125 Live provides socialization and critical healthy-aging resources to help active adults feel connected and supported."
|Sally Gallagher, Executive Director at 125 Live
125 Live provides social programing in the form of "create your own recipe for aging success," as Sally puts it. Members and guests can choose to participate in numerous art and cooking classes, book club, join the Young at Heart singers, or even simply hang out in the billiards area or library lounge.
The organization also links with community resources to provide the support individuals need through the aging process.
125 Live once operated under the name Senior Citizens Services, Inc. Sally Gallagher has been an employee of the organization for 29 years and has been the Executive Director for 21 of those years. Serving the aging population is her passion.
"My heart has always been in helping older adults," she said. "I have a lot of gratitude toward my grandparents who both played a significant role in my life."
Sally has a Bachelor's degree in recreational therapy and a Master's degree in business management.
We had a chance to sit down with Sally to get her thoughts on a few aspects of running a nonprofit organization.
What are some things you know now that you wish you knew when you first started as a nonprofit leader?
I wish I knew how hard the job would be. The act of pouring so many hours into the organization simply to keep it running is not for the faint of heart. As a nonprofit leader, you're often times pulled in many directions and expected to manage it all with limited volunteer and Board resources.
What are the dominant challenges that you see nonprofit organizations facing, and what do you think would be viable solutions?
I see three main challenges faced by both my organization and others.
The first is limited financial resources to maintain sustainability and continue the mission. Connecting with potential donors takes a lot of time and effort, and nonprofits don't have either readily accessible. So we struggle engaging and retaining donors. Fundraising is similar, as every nonprofit is competing for potential donors to attend their event or gala.
The second is the lean staffing due to those financial restraints. It feels impossible to compete with for-profit businesses in terms of pay scale and benefits. In our area, it seems like we are always trying to keep staff from moving to a position at Mayo because they provide what employees need-an appropriate wage and adequate benefits. There is an expectation that nonprofits shouldn't have to compete with the for-profit world in terms of pay scale and benefits. Therefore, hiring the right people to get the job done is very difficult.
Managing expectations is the third biggest challenge facing nonprofits. Unless you have worked at the reigns of a nonprofit, I believe it's impossible to truly understand how difficult it is to do good in the community regarding the mission you are charged to implement. Community leaders, the media, the public, and even your participants and/or clientele often have unrealistic expectations about what you should be doing and accomplishing. They don't know the workload placed on the nonprofit employees. The public, the media, your stakeholders, donors, board members and participants/clients all deserve transparency and effective programming to meet the organizations mission and goals. Expectations, however, should be realistic.
Solutions? That's a good question. If I knew the answer I'd have implemented them by now. Money is required. Without money, it's nearly impossible to effectively meet your mission. However, I have a few ideas.
If media sources would take a more active role in supporting nonprofits and marketing their fundraising events and efforts at no cost, that would be a tremendous help. Providing more airtime, print space, etc. would enable the public to understand the mission, goals and objectives of the nonprofits. This would also help fundraising efforts.
For businesses to give back more and link up with nonprofits they see as a good fit would be a great assistance. Every day more and more businesses are taking an active stand and supporting causes they align with. If consumers looked more closely at shopping and utilizing business that give back and support community needs, more and more businesses may get on board with supporting community nonprofit organizations.
Another idea would be to have businesses/organizations and grant sources consider broadening their focus areas. As an example, it's always difficult for our organization that supports aging needs to compete with children or youth programs. Many businesses, and even service organizations, have a specific focus area, like children/youth projects, for example. Based on our growing elderly demographic, supporting our aging population related needs is an important focus area as well.
What aspects of nonprofit accounting do you find most challenging?
It is very difficult for our organization to afford the type of accountant that we need to ensure we are on top of all the accounting related requirements and functions. It takes a great deal of training, background and experience to understand, implement and manage all the accounting and human resource related requirements and expectations. Also, adding to the problem, in the nonprofit world, staff is typically required to wear several hats. Therefore, the workload and expectation level is very high.