CFR’s Operations Director, Nina, spoke at the New York Women’s Foundation Corporate Leadership Committee on 4/27/19. At the meeting, Nina gave the following speech about CFR’s work and the impact that the Foundation’s unrestricted funding and capacity-building grants has had on the organization.
Hi everyone. I’m Nina Terhune, the Operations Director at the Center for Frontline Retail. I’ve been involved with CFR since it started in 2014, and have seen the organization grow and thrive as New York City’s only nonprofit centered on the advancement of retail workers. The New York Women’s Foundation has been one of our greatest allies throughout the past four years. I am glad to be able to speak with you all today about the work we’re doing at CFR, and how the Foundation’s support has made that work possible.
CFR’s work aims to bring about family-sustaining employment in the retail industry. In a rapidly changing industry, workers are facing low wages, erratic part-time schedules, terrible workplace conditions, and abusive employers. Retail has downgraded from a working-class career to part-time, low-wage work to save retailers the expenses of employee benefits. The industry has entered a cycle where employers neglect to invest in their employees through training, advancement opportunities, or benefits; their employees’ resulting poor performance further drives employers to see them as replaceable. The earnings of women of color, who make up the majority of retail workers, remain lower than men’s for the same work. CFR’s research shows that workers are not being provided with either entry-level training or ongoing training to prepare them for promotion. Women of color face systemic discrimination in retail that creates barriers to advancement. The lack of relevant ongoing professional development has kept women of color from progressing in their retail career and of achieving economic stability.
To address these issues, CFR brings together retail workers across the city to join in our community of activists and advocates seeking economic and social justice. Through our services-to-organizing model, we provide retail workers with essential services that draw them into our community, while educating them about their rights in the workplace. As members of our community, workers attend monthly events to discuss issues in retail, plan and enact campaigns advocating for low-income workers, and act as leaders in our programs, and thought-partners in our research. Over the past two years, CFR has trained 900 retail workers in sector skills and workers’ rights through monthly classes, supported 900 workers in getting referrals for employment, released a report of member-led research, and partnered with the City and a developer for the city’s first project offering local trainings connected to a local hire mandate for a city-subsidized development.
CFR has been fortunate enough to receive funding from the New York Women’s Foundation through their Early Investment initiative, which has helped CFR to grow our sustainability since those early years. The Foundation works with grantees as partners and uses a participatory approach; these values have greatly benefited our work. General operating funding is a rare gift in the nonprofit sector and allows nonprofits to use their own expertise around the communities they work with to identify how best to utilize funding to advance their work. The Foundation’s funding enables CFR to run our essential programs fostering worker advancement, community-building, and leadership development. Their commitment to women and gender fluid New Yorkers allows us to center our work around those voices.
Even outside of their general operating funding, the Foundation has been incredibly supportive of our work. The free training our staff are eligible for through the Foundation have greatly enhanced our team’s professional development. (I myself participated in a development director’s learning circle funded by the foundation last year.) The Foundation has seen us through some challenging times, and their partnership with CFR through that time helped us to sustain our important work when other funders wouldn’t. CFR had a lengthy leadership transition before hiring our new executive director, Brian Fuss, in October. During that time, our wonderful program officer, Bianca Alston, supported the organization with words of encouragement and generous capacity building support enabling the board to move forward with their director search process and even provided me and our interim executive director with an opportunity to participate in a resilience-building training. Since Brian was hired, the Foundation has also provided CFR with capacity-building support to strengthen the organization’s board of directors’ ability to work with Brian to advance the organization’s sustainability.
Thank you, New York Women’s Foundation, Bianca, and all the Foundation staff for partnering and strengthening NYC community-based organizations like CFR, and for modeling leadership that empowers every one of us.