GREENVILLE – Matt Light took timeout from his busy work schedule at Chenoweth Trails to talk about the current status of non-profit organizations including the Light Foundation with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When you think about what people have been going through lately and you think about the impact that it has on business, one of the things we talked about here at the Light Foundation is the impact that it is having, not just on our organization but on non-profits in general,” said Light.
“Spring and coming into summer is a big time for people to kick things off and get them moving,” continued Light. “We personally haven’t been able to do a number of our events so we are off about $250,000 in revenue that is generated through events and different partnerships that we have. With that in mind when you really think about the non-profit realm, what you have is the overwhelming majority of non-profits are your smaller mom and pop style non-profit.”
“When people think about non-profits, a lot of times they think of United Way, the Boys and Girls Club. They think about some of these bigger entities and those are great. They are being affected but the vast majority of your non-profits are your smaller community minded organizations. Maybe it’s something to do with school systems with support with the PTA and things of that nature. Maybe it’s a local food bank, not part of a bigger network but a local food bank so you have all these different non-profits and when they can’t bring in revenue there is a problem.”
“Their models aren’t designed to withstand that and it’s not just the fact that they can’t bring in revenue. You can’ go out and solicit for any type of support when people aren’t even working, so it is in bad taste to even go out and try to look for help.”
“As the companies come back on line, the hope would be that they’re able to maybe keep up with what they have done in the past but in a lot of cases I think what you are going to find is that a lot of these companies are going to have to say, I can’t do anything this year. That is going to put a lot of these organizations in a very difficult position. When you have to start laying off some of your people and you have to start closing the shop and then you stop doing some of your programming or some of your support, it’s hard to get those things kicked back off again. I am very fearful and I think the reality is that we are going to lose a number of non-profits.”
Light is pleased with the avenue the Light Foundation has taken since the organizations beginning.
“We have been fortunate here that our model has always been one in which we are very protective of the real dollars that we spend,” Light stated. “We have been able to grow and each year we are adding more to the infrastructure, more things that we can do and more ways that we can partner with other organizations.”
“We have always had this idea we have to save for the future, we have to be able to grow and at the same time we have to be able to put money in our endowment. Our endowment right now is ok and we are able to weather what has been a pretty interesting time but it doesn’t stop now. Even if everything comes back on now there is still going to be a lag between now and when you can actually start generating revenue through events, soliciting the help of local businesses and the whole nine.”
Following a plan put in place from the beginning, Light is moving ahead as planned with 2020 youth summer programs and camps.
“Our mindset is, going forward is to the extent that we can and we are excited because we are able to host our camps and do a number of things – a little bit differently but we are able to do them,” Light noted.
“We also have a model I call; “The Field of Dreams”. We build it and then they will come. In a lot of cases it is the exact opposite. You start talking about an idea, you get support and then you build it. We may be a little crazy but it has worked out pretty well so far. What that now is affording us is that we are moving into a new phase at the Light Foundation.”
“Now we are saying, we put the sweat equity in, we have proven that we are going to be good stewards of what we have been given and we are going to work really hard to continue doing that, but because we haven’t sold off any of the naming rights or anything else, and we had that “Field of Dreams” approach, we just build it.”
“Now we are saying how can we work with people especially locally to walk in lockstep with us through partnerships. Our corporate partnerships are going to be something that I think are going to help us weather storms like this because organizations that are on our sign out there like the Likens Family Foundation, Rockport Mortgage and our third is Gemini. Those are the only three we have so far but we really haven’t gone out selling those.”
“The idea is a corporate sponsor is someone who believes in the mission, believes in the heart of what we do, wants to make an impact and through a three to five year or in some cases like the Likens Family, they did a 10 year commitment. That gives us a solid ground to be able to say we have this commitment from this company but it also give the company the ability to take ownership in what we do out here and have some naming rights.”
“We have a lot of things that we can name and a lot of ways that we can give companies visibility and beyond the naming rights. We are also saying, you want to have your corporate outing out here, you’re a corporate partner, we want your employees to come out and take advantage of what we have. Then they are going to see it because maybe their kids are going to want take part in some of the camps so it’s a really good win-win for the way we do business, what we represent and what we have.”
“It helps spread the word, it gets people to see what is out here and obviously it brings in revenue generation to help sustain what we have built. That is my major concern right now.”
“I have an awesome team. I don’t have to worry about what happens here anymore. They actually need me to get out of the way so they can do what they have to do,” Light said with a chuckle.
“My big worry now is how do we have the long term sustainability and that is where the endowment comes in,” Light stated. “That is where corporate sponsors come in and that is where telling the story is going to make a big impact. Going back to the idea of what is happening right now and how that relates, this is a very difficult time for non-profits.”
Light has been a huge supporter of Greenville as evidenced by the support he gave to the new sporting facilities at Greenville City Schools including a $10,000 check from his former New England Patriots football coach, Bill Belicheck to kickoff the new football stadium drive.
“That project with the sports complex and the track and field – it was fun to kick that off,” said Light. “It was cool for me to sit back and see all the people that pulled together that made that possible.”
“It is a really neat story to go back and I think one day we will all probably get together and look at that thing and tell the story from a whole bunch of different perspectives because from my chair I could almost write a book on what it took to just get the ball rolling. From there it just continued to climb upwards. It’s neat to go by there and see that.”
“That started 15 years ago with an idea,” Light added. “I love those kind of partnerships where you have all these different people pulling together doing things and why do you do it – because it’s the right thing to do. Why did that project work, because it needed to happen, the community needed it, the school needed it, the people that worked on it needed it because it was meaningful to them and whenever you are doing things for the right reasons, one way or another it always works out, you never worry about it.”
Light is pleased with the support the Light Foundation and Chenoweth Trails receives but is a big supporter of other worthy non-profit organizations.
“We work with a lot of other non-profits in this area,” Light said. “We don’t want to see them being negatively impacted. We want them to be able to come out here and continue to do what they do because our model is one that is wrapped around not just what we do but being a good partner to other organizations as well.”
“For me there is nothing that has happened out here that hasn’t taken the efforts of people from across Darke County and beyond,” Light said of Chenoweth Trails. “We wouldn’t have any of this if it wasn’t for…you think back to that Timber Frame Camp last year. That was people like Kip Kline donating materials, he supports other things, other people in the community, the Terry Clarks, the Mike Christmans and the people that came from the other side of Ohio. All these people that help make this work – well, we want to be the same”
“I don’t just want to say what we are doing is the only way to do it because I know that’s not true. There are a lot of other organizations that do come out and take advantage of Chenoweth Trails and it does help their mission, it helps their programming, it helps them fulfill their goals. I think it really is important if you’re in the community that you have to take the time to look at it as a whole and then figure out what makes the most sense.”
Matt Light; a Greenville graduate is a former NFL offensive tackle who spent his entire 11 year career playing for the New England Patriots from 2001 through 2011. Light is a three-time Super Bowl winner; Super Bowls XXXVI, XXXVIII and XXXIX plus he is a three-time Pro Bowl selection for 2006, 2007 and 2010 and a First-Team All-Pro for 2007.
PHOTO CAPTION: Matt Light keeps a watchful eye on 2019 Timber Frame camper. (Gaylen Blosser photo)