Pongo Poetry Project Organization Assessment

by Barbara Green, August, 2020

As an interim executive director, one of my favorite tasks at the beginning of a new assignment is to conduct a thorough assessment of the organization’s strengths and areas for improvement. I presented that assessment to the board and staff at the Pongo Poetry Project’s board meeting last night. In the spirit of transparency, I would like to share with you a summary of what I learned and how we plan to move forward.

Many of you will not be surprised to hear that the biggest strength of Pongo is its program. And it’s not just because many people think so (although they do) or because we have thousands of awesome poems to prove it, but because Pongo has a documented methodology that is backed by research and evaluation that demonstrate its efficacy. That level of research is unusual for such a small organization. The other strength people identified about Pongo is the people who are involved with it. This includes you-- our donors, volunteers and community partners. And, of course, the youth with whom we work.

As with any organization, there are also areas that need to be improved. Because Pongo has had such a positive impact on so many people, the board, in response to stakeholder interviews conducted as part of strategic planning, has decided to scale the Pongo model to increase national reach. In order to do this, Pongo first must create infrastructure to support that growth. Think of it as the foundation needed to support a house. Specifically, Pongo needs to create administrative systems such as financial, human resources, marketing, board governance and fundraising. It may not sound glamorous, but it is a necessary part of fulfilling our mission and expanding our reach effectively.

Pongo has an unusual history in that it has been run by one amazing person, Richard Gold, for 25 years. Not only did he devote his life to Pongo, he took no salary to do so and worked out of his home. Now, we have three staff people (2 full-time equivalents) and an office, so the cost of running the organization has increased substantially, though not unreasonably. Therefore, one of the organization’s biggest challenges is to raise more money than ever before to so that people all over the country (and perhaps the world) can heal from their trauma through poetry writing.

The board also decided we need to address racial justice issues in a more rigorous and intentional way. To that end, a racial justice committee has been formed and Pongo will start to identify its internal racial justice vision and values and partner with other organizations to address the trauma that white supremacy has inflicted on black and brown people.

Please join us on our journey. You can start by clicking here to join us at our virtual fundraising event on September 24 featuring nationally recognized poet Naomi Shihab Nye and to honor Richard Gold’s legacy. If you are unable to attend the event, please consider donating to the Richard Gold Visionary Fund. Together, we can help thousands more people suffering from trauma by helping them to write poems using the Pongo method.