‘NGOs: The heartbeat of the community’

Posted on May 26 2022

The Marianas Alliance of Non-Governmental Organization’s Lemmai-Mei Nonprofit Incubator Project executive director Frances M. Sablan, front row, third from left, sits with MANGO chair, Maisie B. Tenorio, front row, fourth from left, and MANGO board, MANGO Lemmai-Mei project staff, and attendees at MANGO’s open house last Jan. 21 at the Springs Plaza in Gualo Rai. (Justine Nauta)

With more or less 70 non-government organizations in the CNMI, some are more known than others and it is a given that there may be some that you may or may not have heard of. All of these organizations share one purpose, though, and that is to help the CNMI community.

Maisie B. Tenorio, who chairs the board of the Marianas Alliance of Non-Governmental Organizations, or MANGO, said that non-profit organizations have a significant impact on the community as a whole and with the specific group of people that they provide services to.

“We have always talked about non-profit organizations as sort of being like the heartbeat of the community. They are very connected with citizens, they are aware of what the needs are, where the gaps are, and what the different communities are facing. Nonprofit organizations are usually created in response to what the community needs,” said Tenorio. 

There are a lot of examples within the CNMI of non-profit organizations that cater to the various niche needs of its people. In her example, Tenorio cited the Mariana Islands Nature Alliance, which addresses some of the immediate environmental concerns of the community, and Karidat, which carries out social services such as providing food, shelter, and rental assistance.

“Each non-profit organization is created in response to a specific need that the community has. So understanding that, we know that they have a significant impact because they’re directly serving the community and many of them do so. Over the years, sometimes the needs change, and that’s why non-profit organizations are so special, that because they are so connected with the community, they are able to pivot and change and address different needs as they come up,” added Tenorio.

Along with changing times and changing needs of the community it serves, there are some non-profits that do not thrive. It’s not necessarily because of neglect, no time put into it, or lack of funds, but because running non-profit organizations also requires some administrative tasks to make them sustainable, such as payroll, marketing, media outreach, etc.

“Non-profits are created because somebody has a passion to help and oftentimes, they just want to help the community. …However, running a non-profit also has an administrative side. There is the side that you get to work directly with the community and provide services, but in order for the organization to be sustained, there’s also an administrative side that has to do with payroll taxes, financial management policies, or personnel policies,” Tenorio said. “There’s an entire administrative side that goes into sustaining a non-profit, and oftentimes people who just have the passion to do the work may not have the capacity to address the administrative needs of their organization.” 

That is where MANGO comes in, Tenorio said, and why MANGO is so important—it handles those back-side issues of running a sustainable nonprofit.

“One of the things that we did notice a long time ago was that a lot of non-profits needed support in that [administrative] area. People with a passion to help the community might not even know how to create a non-profit. …MANGO was created in response to that—to support non-profits, to make them sustainable so that they can keep doing the amazing work that they’re doing in the community.”

MANGO was established in 2010 in response to this critical need to provide the non-profit community of the CNMI with guidance on how to register a non-profit organization with the CNMI and federal governments, obtain tax-exempt status, pursue funding opportunities, and to give the non-profit sector a collective voice in the community and at local, regional, and international forums. 

“Our objective is to ensure that existing and new non-profits become financially independent and self-sufficient,” said the group in a recent news release.

Being part of the board of directors for MANGO, being a part of the board of directors for the Public School System, and being the founder and executive director of the Northern Marianas Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence, which is 15 years up and running this year, Tenorio has a couple of tips for those who are planning to start a non-profit and for current non-profits to keep thriving:

“The number one thing that I had to learn the hard way is to ask for help. Ask for help. If you don’t know what it is that you need to do, just ask for help. Because now there are organizations like MANGO who are experts at things with regards to non-profit. That’s the first thing.”

“The second thing is to stay connected, to connect to the mission, to stay connected to the community. For me, those are the two things that you need to do, because oftentimes, you can get lost, you can be like, you have this mission, and that’s all you can see—this tunnel vision to get from point A to point B. But things happen, things change, sometimes outside in your periphery, things are happening, and you don’t see it, because you’re so laser-focused. Take time to stay connected to everything that’s happening around you so that you can make changes if necessary, and serve your community in the way that they need to be served at that moment. Because it can be different this year than last year. It always changes.”

Tenorio relates back to the Northern Marianas Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence, which makes sure to “listen” to the community.

“We do listening sessions, where we gather people and we ask them what they think about domestic violence. What do you think about sexual assault, what’s happening within your community? For example, LGBTQIA+ folks or faith-based folks, or even CW workers, or men, women, students, because oftentimes there’s a shared lived experience between the group and that helps the conversation flow.

“So we really try to organize these groups, so that’s how we stay connected. And then, of course, through social media. There are survivors constantly messaging us or connecting with us there, too. And then all of our other outreach events, radio, family, fun days, things like that. Those all have a dual purpose, providing education, but also putting us in the community where we need to be.”

Tenorio said that service is just something she has always done and tries to raise her children that way too. “It’s the concept of paying it forward. …If somebody has ever done you kindness, if you can look back on your life and think about all the times that somebody has done you a kindness, take the opportunity to pay it forward by volunteering. There’s so many different non-profits that need help. That can be anything from organizing or folding clothes with Empty Vessel, or organizing all of their donations, to Saipan Cares for Animals, just coming and playing with the animals. There’s so many ways that you can pay it forward. If somebody has ever done you a kindness, if somebody has ever helped you in your life, you can pay it forward by volunteering for a non-profit. There’s always something to do and help, whether it’s in your own neighborhood or with one of these nonprofits.”

Tenorio said that big or small corporations also have an impact on supporting non-profit organizations, whether in cash or in kind.

“Every organization, whether a for-profit or non-profit, there are values that you build your organization upon. Look at those values, analyze them, evaluate them, and see how you can embody them in your organization. Oftentimes, that includes service, that includes kindness. The values include things like respect. …How you can embody those in your organization…is definitely through service. It’s getting out there and helping the people that bring profit into your organization and giving back to your community. The TSL Foundation is a great example of a company that does that. I know that very early, the foundation was one of the earliest funders for the coalition, with small donations here and there. But you know, in the very beginning, every dollar counts.”

Leigh Gases
Leigh Gases is the youngest reporter of Saipan Tribune and primarily covers community related news, but she also handles the utilities, education, municipal, and veterans beats. Contact Leigh at leigh_gases@saipantribune.com.
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