Overcoming the Challenges Facing Hawaii Nonprofits – Lisa Maruyama

Hawaii has a large network of nonprofit organizations spread across the state. However, nonprofits on the outer islands often lack the resources, networks, and exposure of those on Oahu. Cheryl Walsh interviews Lisa Maruyama, President and CEO of the Hawaii Alliance of Nonprofit Organizations, about the challenges facing nonprofits on the outer islands.

Could you please provide our members with a snapshot of the nonprofit sector in Hawaii?  What are some of the core issues and focus groups that are being served by nonprofits across the state? In what ways do they differ from the nonprofits on the mainland?

In 2015, there were just over 6,000 charitable nonprofit organizations in Hawai`i. These organizations have an IRS 501(c)(3) tax-exempt designation for their critical work in the areas of health and human service, environmental stewardship; the arts and cultural enrichment; education; animals, advocacy, good government and other essential services for public and community benefit. Hawaii nonprofits are varied in size, mission, geography, and business model. Collectively, they work toward a better future for everyone, from the keiki to the kupuna.

Nonprofit services in Hawaii may be unique as compared to other communities in the Continental U.S., in the perpetuation of the host Native Hawaiian culture and language, and in the preservation issues particular to the only island state in the union. In that big industry does not exist in Hawaii, our economic landscape is vastly different from other large cities in the U.S. This impacts charitable giving to nonprofits in Hawaii. The cost of living in Hawaii is very high, rivaling only those big cities of San Francisco, New York City and Washington DC, making it challenging for lower and middle income families to thrive in the islands, and subsequently increasing demand for nonprofit safety net services.

The mission of the Hawai‘i Alliance of Nonprofit Organizations (HANO) is “to unite and strengthen the nonprofit sector as a collective force to improve the quality of life in Hawaii.”  That said, Hawaii is an archipelago. And, your clients are scattered across the island chain. Given this physical reality, what are some of the obstacles that you face when trying to unite nonprofits across the state as a collective force? And, to what extent have you been able to overcome these challenges?

Since our inception 10 years ago, all of our communications have been electronic to allow for equal access. Much of our educational content is on our website; also accessible by anyone, anywhere. Our board of directors is made up of representatives from each island so that we can remain in touch with the needs of communities on each island. When physically on each island, we will occasionally conduct listening sessions to keep apprised of the issues. We also conduct occasional surveys to better understand these needs. Additionally, we have on-island partners that help us gather and disseminate information.

Despite these initiatives, we still encounter challenges in being a truly statewide organization. The needs of nonprofits on other islands are also varied by island and by community, which make it hard to serve these organizations with our own limited capacity. Also, if we are not on each island frequently, maintaining our relationships with our partners is difficult.

Economically, Oahu is the dominant island in Hawaii. How does this impact the work of nonprofits on Oahu? The neighbor islands? In general, do you think that businesses, foundations, and government agencies headquartered on Oahu do enough to support nonprofits headquartered on the neighbor islands?

Of the total number of charitable nonprofits in the State of Hawaii, 65% are on Oahu; 17% are on Hawaii Island; 12% are on Maui, 5% are on Kauai; .4% are on Lana`i; and .2% are on Molokai. With two-thirds of all nonprofits on Oahu, there is always a danger of a predominant amount of resources being distributed to that island. Nonprofits generally do not allocate enough resources to their neighbor island operations, nor do they have the proper technology to facilitate enhanced communications.

Foundations and government entities do also admit to a lack of appropriate resources being disseminated to the neighbor islands. Public policies often don’t support equal distribution. For two years in a row, there were attempts by community advocates to ask the Hawaii State Legislature for increased funds for public testimony by video conferencing and live stream coverage of hearings, to provide better access by neighbor islands to the political process. These requests were denied both years.

While there could always be more dollars going toward these islands, it has been encouraging to see island-specific funds established by trusts and foundations in Hawaii. KTA Superstores, Big Island Candies, and other corporations provide the majority of their support to Hawaii Island nonprofits and other community strengthening organizations. Alexander and Baldwin and the Baldwin Family Foundation provide support to Maui and Maui County. G. N. Wilcox Trust, Elsie Wilcox Foundation and the Annie Sinclair Knudsen Fund all provide support to Kauai only. Oracle Corporation CEO Larry Ellison created a company called Pulama Lanai that has been supportive of infrastructure development and community strengthening on Lanai.

A piece published in a Harvard Business School newsletter Working Knowledge suggests that many nonprofits believe that they must grow big before they can achieve significant social impact.  However, the article’s author, a HBS Professor, says that the research suggests that a more powerful lever to increase a nonprofit social impact might be to focus on building network relationships.  Do you agree or disagree with this theory?  And, to what extent do you think nonprofits on the neighbor islands have taken advantage of social network technologies to overcome the challenges that they face?

I would argue that small, grassroots, agile nonprofits can have tremendous impact in their communities, and sometimes with more refinement and nuance than a large multi-million dollar nonprofit with branches on each island. Often, we see the larger nonprofits wishing to partner with these community-based, smaller nonprofits for greater customization of their services.

I agree that networks provide a more facile, agile way to leverage resources if economies of scale can be realized by the collective power of the network. For this to happen, the networks formed would need to be extremely well organized. This is not often the case.

Networks, and especially if managed by a third party intermediary, are also helpful to allow network participants to see the larger social issue that needs to be addressed. Many times, these nonprofits work with their heads down on very narrow missions, not ever perceiving the larger landscape. Networks conceivably could help to coordinate, streamline and focus services on true community needs.

On Maui, there is already a well-organized group called the Maui Nonprofit Executive Directors Association (MNPDA) that is longstanding and robust in membership. The group has elected leadership, paying members and monthly meetings. The group benefits from information sharing and co-learning, but the greater impact of meeting missions as a means for collective impact does not seem to be an outcome of the group. However, if there is an advocacy threat of some kind, particular to their existence and identity as Maui-based nonprofits, this body is organized and has the appropriate decision making mechanisms in place to respond as a group.

There is a fledgling group of executive directors on Oahu, but this is largely a Honolulu-centric, very informally organized group of about 20 executive directors. The intent of this group is more social in nature, than any formalized programmatic or advocacy agenda.

I do not see evidence of other forms of organization on any of the other island, and from my limited perspective where I sit. There may be more informal regional networks that I am not aware of.

In general, I do not think that nonprofits on neighbor islands maximize technology to leverage connectivity and resources within their island communities. Sometimes, a convener or a facilitator entity from those communities is needed to forge ties, broker relationships and provide leadership as an objective third party.

In terms of operations capacity, human resources for staffing, grant writing, fundraising and general accounting are important assets for nonprofits. Yet, nonprofits in remote locations often do not have the staff or funding to hire full time to fulfill these duties. Are there any simple fixes for this problem? If not, do you think that foundations should make it a priority to provide nonprofits on the neighbor islands with shared human resources to boost their operations capacity?

Pooled back office and fiscal sponsorship mechanisms have been desired for many years, particularly by neighbor island nonprofits. Unfortunately, past attempts to build these programs, particularly on Oahu, have failed. The liability and cost assumed by the coordinating entity is high. Nonprofits seeking these services tend to be smaller in budget. Consequently, fees charged to these clients are minimal. As such, the business model has been challenging, making the coordinating role unattractive to take on.

To my knowledge, existing models that have succeeded are the Kohala Center and the North Kohala Community Resource Center on Hawaii Island and the Tri-Isle Resource Conservation and Development on Maui. Of interest is that the successful models do exist on neighbor islands.

Having said that, there is still a tremendous need for such services on each island. There is not enough expertise on each island, including Oahu, particularly in the areas of accounting and law, making some form of consolidation, and resource pooling very needed and attractive.


Román Oyarzun Marchesi

Lisa Maruyama is President and CEO of the Hawaii Alliance of Nonprofit Organizations in Honolulu, Hawaii.

The views expressed represent those of the respective contributors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed. Please send any responses to pr@islandssociety.org. Our editors will consider any and all responses for future publication.

Improving K-5 Education on the Big Island – Kimberly Castro

Kimberly Castro is the President of the Parent, Teacher, and Student Association (PTSA) of Waikoloa in Waikoloa, Hawaii.

Could you provide a snapshot of K-5 education in Hawaii, in general, and on the Big Island specifically?

Like many schools on the mainland, Hawaii has implemented Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics using a state adopted curriculum called Wonders and Stepping Stones Math. Students are monitored regularly for progress using STAR Universal screener, as well as annual Smarter Balance Assessments beginning in 3rd grade. Teachers are rated annually using the Effective Educator System which encourages highly qualified teachers in all classrooms.

On the Big Island, we have an ethnically and culturally diverse population. So, our teachers are trained to utilize a variety of strategies to best meet all students’ needs. Almost 15% of our students at the Waikoloa Elementary & Middle School are classified as English-Language Learners. These are students who are unable to communicate and fluently learn in English. 10% of our students are currently classified as Special Education. And another 9% were formerly classified as Special Education and are monitored. To help teachers reach ALL students, our administration therefore requires all teachers to take Guided Language Acquisition Design (GLAD) training, which gives them techniques to use in the classroom to communicate effectively to students with English language barriers. Elementary grade level teacher data teams also meet weekly to assess data and implement intervention strategies to close the achievement gap.

There is a reported shortage of teachers statewide. Why? How does this shortage affect the Big Island verses Oahu?

There are many significant obstacles that affect teacher shortages in Hawaii. The school districts in our state serve 180,000 students at 290 schools. And, Hawaii Department of Education (HIDOE) will need to fill 1000 teacher vacancies for the 2016-17 school year across the state. Our Hawaii Island will have 82 of those vacancies of which 39 are specialized education. There are a limited number of Special Education (SPED) teachers nationwide. How do we recruit those specialized teachers to our island? Where do we even begin?

First, let’s get right to a major issue and discuss the average teacher’s salary. A first year teacher with a Bachelor’s degree and a Hawaii teaching license will have a beginning salary of $46,601. Let’s combine that knowledge with the fact that Hawaii is the priciest state in the nation to buy a home. Throw in salary, cost of living, home prices, electricity, food, gas, and the mix of culture shock plus thousands of miles of ocean between our teachers and their families, and this sets our teachers up for short longevity in their Hawaii teaching careers.

Unfortunately, our local college teacher education programs aren’t able to produce enough graduates for our needs in Hawaii. The remote islands, specifically our Big Island, feels the strain of this shortage more than Oahu. A few years ago our HIDOE was offering $6000 sign-on bonuses for teachers to work on the Big Island, specifically Kau, Keaau, Pahoa areas. These were considered low-performing / high poverty schools.

At Waikoloa Elementary and Middle School our Parent-Teacher-Student Association (PTSA) has chosen to focus on the positive. We know that retention is the key. There is hope. Every teacher matters. We celebrate the amazing and dedicated teachers every day and just had a special week-long celebration May 2-6 for Teacher Appreciation Week.

Overall, what is the state of the facilities? What are there major challenges across the state? And, are there any unique challenges that you face on the Big Island?

While the average age of most school buildings on Hawaii are 65 years old, Waikoloa boasts fairly new facilities, recently celebrating our 20 year anniversary. There have been several expansions over the past 20 years to include adding a Middle School so that we could service K-8 students. Our challenge is adding classroom space quickly enough to meet the growing community needs.

Since we are a single-district jurisdiction, with offices headquartered on Oahu, it can be difficult to get our needs in front of the HIDOE where monthly meetings are held. We are still bursting at the seams. But, a recent letter writing campaign to our Senators and Congressional Representatives, spearheaded by the Waikoloa SCC (School Community Council) and supported by the PTSA, have culminated in an $11M award to expand our Middle School buildings to include two state of the art science classrooms, an art classroom, and other rooms and offices, to be completed during 2017-18 school year. So, even though we are challenged by being “remote,” we know that we can have a voice when we work together toward a common goal.

Air conditioning seems to be a major problem in elementary schools across the state. Is it a problem at your school? How does the lack of air conditioning affect students, and most importantly, does it undermine their test scores?

The heat abatement issue is certainly a ‘hot’ topic across the state. So much so that Gov. David Ige signed a bill last week that would allocate 100 million to cool Hawaii’s public schools. Unfortunately that money can only go so far. The estimated cost for all Hawaii public schools to have complete AC systems is 1.7 billion. 33 schools have been targeted as high priority to decrease classroom temps to 76 degrees. Of the 11,806 public school classrooms, only 38% currently have AC in place.

In the summer months classroom temperatures can reach highs of 84 to 100 degrees. These conditions can cause nausea, vomiting, heat exhaustion, muscle aches and dehydration for students and teachers. Higher temperatures can also influence neurotransmitters in the brain affecting serotonin levels which can lead to aggressive behavior. Heat definitely undermines test scores with solid proof that the brain does not function well in hot weather. Heat significantly impacts cognition and causes lower intellectual skills. Studies show that optimal learning temperatures are 68-74 degrees, with performance in Math and Reading compromised when the learning environment rose above 74 degrees.

At Waikoloa School, only 14 of our 41 classrooms have AC and currently we are not on the priority list set by the HIDOE. The Waikoloa School PTSA has started a ‘Cool Our Keiki’ program to address the heat abatement challenges at our school. The biggest expense we face is upgrading the electrical infrastructure that is needed to avoid blown circuits or potential fire hazards. It is our hope that with fundraising, grants and donations we can get AC into several more classrooms by the end of this calendar year.

Structured and unstructured play is an important part of K-5 education. How are the physical education and recess resources at your school? What improvements are needed?

Hawaii mandates 30 minutes of Physical Education (PE) per week in grades K-6, and requires recess daily. All required PE classes follow the Hawaii Content and Performance Standards. Our students have one PE class per week. As with most schools the PE equipment has been well-loved and the supplies dwindle as the school year comes to a close. There’s no gymnasium location for PE and all the classes are held outside. Fortunately, it rarely rains in Waikoloa.

Right now, our biggest problem is that our playgrounds desperately need updating. Wood chips, steel rebar, and children at play do not make a safe combination. I’ve been told that removing splinters is a daily routine for our health aid. Our PTSA has been working closely with our principal and Monica Kaui Baron from the HIDOE to come to an agreement to update our Kindergarten playground. Cost is an issue and we’re actively fundraising (have been for years) to make this dream a reality. The HIDOE has now informed us that we need to trim another $10,000 off the quote that we obtained if we want the playground updated.


Kimberly Castro is the President of the Parent, Teacher, and Student Association (PTSA) of Waikoloa.

The views expressed represent those of the respective contributors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed. Please send any responses to pr@islandssociety.org. Our editors will consider any and all responses for future publication.

Image Credit: rosasay via Flickr CC

Hilton Head Island Needs Authentic Community Programming – Cheryl Walsh

One of the key objectives outlined in the Hilton Head Island Vision 2030 is to achieve a diverse economy beyond tourism. Unfortunately, it will be difficult for our local community to achieve this objective when tourism fundamentally shapes every aspect of our identity. If we want to achieve a diverse economy beyond tourism, then our local community must strike a new balance between the needs of a community and the needs of a tourist destination. For too long, the scale has been tipped over in favor of the needs of a tourist destination.

If we are serious about creating a new identity, then we need to prioritize authenticity. We need to put an end to our residents being guests at their own events. We need to put an end to our cultural heritage being something that we market to tourists rather than celebrate as a community. We need to put an end to business practices that benefit the tourist industry at the expense of the local environment. These are a few of the things that we need to do if we want to nurture a stronger sense of community on the island.

Take community programming. If we were serious about the needs of the community, we could sacrifice one or two of the large commercial events that we put on for tourists. The money that the town allocates to these events could then be reallocated to hundreds of smaller community events across the island. Here, I am thinking of farmers markets, neighborhood fairs, cultural events, and other local activities. In other words, events organized by residents for residents.

Right now, we do not have a strong slate of community programming that allows residents of all backgrounds to experience the performing talents and cultural heritage of the island. If we wanted to create a new identity, then we need to invest in programs that bring the musicians and artists from the Gullah Museum of Hilton Head and speakers from the Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn into the community. These programs need to be authentic. They cannot be shaped by the needs of tourism. They need to be shaped by the needs of the community.

While programs at the Arts Center are wonderful and draw a certain percentage of the population, we need to be honest with ourselves. Many local families with small children and senior citizens on fixed incomes simply cannot afford the cost of admission. That is why we need to take a page from local communities along the coast of New England. There, many small coastal towns have symphonies or town bands that give free open air concerts on the lawn every Friday or Saturday night in the summer months. These are wonderful programs that are a fact of life for the residents.

In my opinion, we could easily replicate such programming on Hilton Head Island. In fact, there are many open air locations on Hilton Head Island – i.e., Shelter Cove, Coligny, the Park – that would be ideal sites for such programs. And, we could easily incorporate our own cultural heritage into these events.

Of course, investing in such programming would be a major shift for our community. We would be taking a step back from the commercialism that defines the Heritage Trail, Gullah Museum, and Sweetgrass basket shops. But, I think that is a necessary move. We cannot accept the status quo any longer. We need a new identity.

Much as Shannon Tanner draws tourists to Shelter Cove year after year, we also need community programming for residents that cements an emotional and intellectual attachment in their minds to a new identity for their community. If we had such programming, we would create more than just a stronger sense of community among existing residents. We would be providing activities that would act as a catalyst to draw new families into our community, especially young families who are looking for somewhere to lay roots. We also would be providing tourists with something that is desperately missing from their experiences on this island. Tourists love to participate in authentic local experiences.

Author: Cheryl Walsh is a local resident of Hilton Head Island. She also a graduate of the University of South Carolina.

The views expressed represent those of the respective contributors and not their respective organizations. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed. Please send any responses to pr@islandssociety.org. Our editors will consider any and all responses for future publication.

Image Credit: Robert Du Bois via Flickr CC

Good Public Diplomacy Starts at Home: Beaufort County, South Carolina – Cheryl Walsh

The recent shooting at a historical black church in Charleston, South Carolina, is but one example of an event centered on racism and gun violence that could severely undermine foreign perceptions of Americans. That terrible attack renewed perceptions that Americans have too many guns and have yet to overcome racial tensions. Many international media outlets and foreign governments therefore portrayed the shooting against the backdrop of boiling racial tensions and a national obsession with guns.

How can we possibly change perceptions (i.e., global public opinion) about systemic social issues like racism and gun violence when there will most likely be more attacks and in more cities across our country? It makes little sense to continue investing in reactive messaging. What is needed is to create an ongoing dialogue with foreign audiences so that we can share what Americans are doing to confront these issues in their local communities between attacks.

In an effort to address such problems in their backyard, the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission has focused their energies on establishing Community Relations Councils at the county level to improve relations between South Carolina citizens of all demographic backgrounds. The volunteer organizations work to promote respect and civility, encourage cultural awareness and understanding, evaluate public attitudes, identify issues of concern in the community, and execute a program of action to earn public understanding, awareness and acceptance. Ultimately, the council’s mission is to identify problems at the local level, before they become crisis situations requiring state or federal government intervention.

In recent weeks, local civil society organizations gathered at the Technical College of the Lowcountry in Okatie, SC, for an organizational meeting to establish a new Community Relations Council for Beaufort County, South Carolina. For those unfamiliar with the geography of the state, Beaufort County includes the area between Charleston, SC, and Savannah, GA. In addition to the major population centers of Beaufort, Bluffton, and Hilton Head Island, the county is also composed of hundreds of barrier islands, including St. Helena Island.

As the managing director of the Sea Islands Society, a constituent of the Islands Society, I consider myself fortunate to have been invited to attend the planning meeting as a community agency representative. Why, you may ask, would a nonprofit organization engaged in public diplomacy participate in this sort of local initiative? Americans, and South Carolinians in particular, need to drive home the message that local communities like Beaufort County are not simply accepting these shootings as a fact of life, but are being proactive about trying to confront these issues in a variety of ways. The creation of a Community Relations Council is one small step in that direction.

Participation in this council allows my organization to serve as a good corporate citizen working with others to prevent another attack in our community. We also share a firsthand narrative about what the members of our community are doing to take responsibility for a problem that many foreign communities believe is a stain on our country. In this way, our staff is not only passively helping to resolve an issue that is a problem for American public diplomacy oversea. We are actively helping to change perception of the United States overseas.

Involvement with a community relations council is paramount to building new capacities for our staff that we can then share with the interest groups served by other constituent societies (e.g., Pacific Islands Society), thereby transferring knowledge of how U.S. local communities can resolve similar problems. We are able to develop new programs to educate foreigners about how local municipalities in island communities establish a community relations council to improve the quality of life for their own residents. Peoples overseas will be more likely to accept established programs with positive track records in an effort to resolve similar problems in their own local communities.

Additionally, experience with these councils aids in building new capacities for our staff that we can then share with Foreign Service officers through programs designed to educate them on how local communities are working to resolve domestic problems that undermine American public diplomacy overseas.

Involvement in such councils allows representatives, such as our staff, the opportunity to build new relationships within the local community. Armed with this knowledge, they can travel abroad educating Foreign Service officers on what public diplomacy is and what a local group in their community is doing to support public diplomacy. Concurrently, they have the ability to inspire or empower members of the local community not already engaged in public diplomacy or cultural relations overseas (or who aren’t aware they are, such as missionary groups) to become actively involved in U.S. public diplomacy as citizen ambassadors. Imagine the possibilities!

The council works to resolve issues that are problems for the local interest groups that the Sea Islands Society serves (e.g., women, minorities, next generation leaders, and veterans), thus improving the quality of their life. In most cases, councils in counties across South Carolina are composed of approximately 15 members representing various governmental boards, area agencies and support groups. This network of interconnected local service groups is then able to pull their combined knowledge to address concerns in their own community. Once the issue is identified, a community relations council acts as a bridge between local officials and citizens to execute a program of action to earn public understanding, awareness and acceptance. A council may be the key to assuring that fair and proper housing, education, transportation and health services are available to all segments of the population in its community. Especially when tension and conflict are resolved in a crisis situation, life for the entire community is greatly improved.

By their very definition, community relations councils foster better relationships within a diverse community through organized efforts to bring together cross-sections of people and resolve mutual issues of concern. In our community, our council is working to establish a “beloved community.” These councils may ultimately assure that the rest of the state, nation and indeed, the world as a whole will view life in each area of the United States on a much more positive note.

Note: This article was originally published by the Center on Public Diplomacy at the University of Southern California on October 28, 2015.