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Who helps the helpers? With so much work to be done to sustain all segments in a community and help them thrive, where do nonprofit agencies go for support?

Some, like the Audubon Society or the Red Cross, may be part of state or national organizations that offer tools and guidance. Others, such as the Napa Valley Vine Trail or Connolly Ranch, are unique to our valley and do their best to stand and grow on their own.

But none of the nonprofits here in the valley need truly be alone. The Napa Valley Coalition of Nonprofit Agencies serves to connect many of the valley’s helping organizations. Through the coalition, they are able to share ideas, resources, strategies and challenges.

The coalition believes that nonprofits are vital to the health and well-being of our county. Suzanne Shiff, the coalition’s executive director, is driven by her commitment to making connections and encouraging practices that maximize the work of member organizations.

“I get to work each day in the rarefied air of a job that perfectly aligns with my personal values of collaboration, leadership, and ‘tikkun olam,’ a Hebrew phrase that means healing and restoring the world,” she said.

“The work I do provides challenge and opportunity to constantly make a difference in our community, and the people with whom I work directly care so deeply about their own work, staff and clients they serve.”

What is your purpose or mission?

Shiff: “The Napa Valley Coalition of Nonprofit Agencies believes that nonprofits located in Napa County are more effective in meeting the needs of the community when they have a chance to lean on and learn from each other. Participation in this alliance keeps all of us apprised of the work of others, so that we don’t spend time duplicating, but we do spend time helping the people of Napa find the right service in the right place.”

In brief, what’s the history of your organization?

“The coalition formed in 1995 when Dan Corsello, former director of Napa County Health and Human Services, and directors of several Napa Valley nonprofit organizations met to discuss the concept of bringing health and human services agencies together for the purpose of mutual support and collaboration.

“Since then, the coalition has expanded its membership to include all nonprofit organizations working to improve the quality of life of valley residents. A tax-exempt 501(c)3 organization, we serve about 70 regular, affiliate and honorary member organizations. We have affected public policy, strengthened the health and human services forum, and increased the quantity and quality of services by means of our extensive community portal.”

Who are the people you serve?

“Agency members are located throughout the county and serve thousands, essentially anyone who needs services or information and are primarily low-income. Some of our member organizations are quite large and serve many, like the Queen of the Valley and St. Helena hospitals and Community Health Clinic Ole. Others are quite small, like Andrea’s Voice or Legal Aid of Napa Valley, but all serve many residents with special needs.

“With recent downshifts in the economy and higher rates of unemployment, a new client has emerged as well. Our members see a greater need of services for seniors.”

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Is there an anecdote that illustrates the work you do?

“We are more of a ‘chamber of commerce’ for nonprofits than a single agency.

“My work is primarily with executive directors and program managers. I like to think of myself as the ‘air traffic controller.’ I help in guiding communication, providing resources, determining current training topics and assisting with organizational improvement. I also work with local, state and national elected officials and the Napa Chamber of Commerce.”

What’s a current need or upcoming project?

“Since the coalition represents so many nonprofits, you can help all of them help their constituencies and the community at large by supporting them in their events. For example, in the past few weeks Cope (Family Center) held its annual Rock & Stroll, and ParentsCan just brought us Celebrate Grandparents. Earlier this month, the coalition’s healthy aging committee, HAPI, helped to organize Sizzling Seniors, the valley’s first celebrating-seniors event.

“Every day there are events sponsored by local nonprofits for the community. They might be educational programs, support meetings for parents or children, or entertaining fundraisers to help financially sustain their organizations. Check the Register calendar. Find ones that fit your passion. Then volunteer, donate, attend or serve on a board of directors. We cannot do this work without you, the individual, who can give back — even in the simplest way.”

Each week, Napa Valley CanDo provides a profile of a Napa Valley nonprofit or service club — what the organization does, what it needs and how an interested person can get involved. For more information on the column, contact Hilary Zunin at To learn more about opportunities for community service, visit