Despite the pandemic, 2020 was a very good year for CMR Communications.
In December 2019, I had 2 retainer clients – a lobbying firm and a co-working site – and 2 prospects. I was negotiating a contract with the Northeastern Association of the Blind at Albany (NABA) as a grantwriter and had just entered into talks with the NYS Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Coalition for a 3-month gig to manage their annual meeting at the end of March.
When the pandemic hit, I quickly lost the original two clients, but NABA needed me more than ever as they applied for COVID response grants. In addition to having to convert many of their services to virtual delivery, they quickly retooled their production operation to fabricate cloth masks and help check the spread of Coronavirus among some of New York’s most vulnerable residents. NABA provides a full range of services to people who are blind or visually impaired, helping them to achieve or maintain their independence. NABA never turns anyone away and are the only agency for the blind in New York providing services to incarcerated individuals.
The NYS CDFI Coalition annual meeting was canceled 2 weeks before it happened, but my contract was redrawn from event coordinator to Consulting Executive Director. CDFIs all around the state responded to community needs as conduits for Payroll Protection Program loans and began to offer online technical assistance and other webinars as businesses tried to weather the shutdown. We took on the cause of the NYS Small Business Truth in Lending Act to protect borrowers from predatory lending and celebrated when the Governor signed the bill into law on December 23. And we transformed our 2-day in-person annual meeting to a series of webinars and panel discussions throughout the fall.
Just before the New York pause, in February, I met with a prospective client, the NYS Kinship Navigator. The Kinship Navigator is an information, referral and advocacy program for kinship caregivers - individuals caring for children who are not biologically their own. For those of you following this blog, you know that while they wanted to hire me, they needed to hire a Minority/Women’s Business Enterprise. I had planned to seek certification after a year in business (effectively, February 2020) and was certified as a WBE in record time, in May, 2020. I began working on outreach for the Kinship Navigator that same month.
In October, I received a call from one of the board members of the NYS CDFI Coalition, the Executive Director of the Leviticus Fund. He was looking to fill a newly created position of Resource Development Officer, but needed someone with certain communications, fundraising and membership management skills, and with knowledge of the CDFI industry. I said, “well, that sounds a lot like me!” In December, I took on the tasks of increasing resources to support Leviticus’ work, including membership expansion, advancing initiatives to secure investments from faith-based colleges and universities, and developing and implementing a Legacy Fund.
When I look back on the 2nd anniversary of launching CMR Communications in January, I’ll do so with a profound sense of gratitude and wonder. How is it that in just 2 years, I’ve built a portfolio of clients who are all working – among different constituencies – to make the world a better place? Whether advocating for people with blindness; or children whose parents are unable to care for them; or the banks, credit unions and community foundations that invest in underserved neighborhoods and businesses; my clients are all bending that long arc of history toward justice. I am honored to be working with them.
I firmly believe that 2021 will give us all an opportunity to redouble our efforts to make our world a more peaceful and equitable place – at local, statewide, national and international levels. What are your intentions for 2021? Drop me a line! Let’s make small talk.
Colleen M. Ryan is an