Cape Cod Times
HYANNIS — As executive director of the Cape Cod Times Needy Fund, Betsey Sethares admits it’s “never easy” to
see local family’s struggle.
But as she announces her retirement, effective in January, and looks back on her 25-year career at the charitable nonprofit, she said the generosity of donors helped her “make a measurable and meaningful impact” to the economic security of Cape residents.
“Helping to stabilize households by offering financial assistance for basic human needs, helps strengthen the community as a whole,” Sethares said. “I feel fortunate beyond measure for the opportunity to serve at the Needy Fund — I’m grateful.”
Since 1936, the Needy Fund has helped with a host of immediate, short-term emergencies such as food, rent, medical costs and other basic expenses. But under Sethares’ leadership, the fund has grown from being a humble holiday meal donation campaign, which initially helped 10 families a year, to a thriving nonprofit that assists roughly 4,000 clients a year, according to the Needy Fund website.
“Since becoming a nonprofit in 1983, the Needy Fund remained a small volunteer organization for quite some time,” Sethares said. “When I joined in 1997, I quickly became aware that community needs were greater than what the Needy Fund was serving.”
Sethares first encountered the Needy Fund as a 19-year-old intern at the “Cape Cod Times” when one of the organization’s volunteers asked her to read several Needy Fund request letters.
“She showed me letters from people who wrote into the Needy Fund asking for help and she had donations that had been given through the wishing well that (at one time) sat outside the front of the (Times building),” Sethares said. “She asked me how I thought we could help them, and we talked for a bit. I remember thinking about how great the program was.”
That experience resonated with Sethares as she went on to college to study business and psychology, and eventually became the first director of the Child Care Resource and Referral Network at Community Action Council of Cape Cod and the Islands in 1990.
Sethares then worked as a mental health counselor, providing individual and group counseling at the Center for Health and Human Services, until joining the Times — first in the Total Market Coverage department — and later as executive director of the Needy Fund.
As Sethares settled into her role at the Needy Fund, she began using her background in business and experience in human services to execute a series of strategies including direct mailings, and internet outreach — to bolster visibility. In addition, Sethares reached out to clubs and organizations to heighten communication and connection with partner social service organizations and created a brochure outlining services. Then, it was just a matter of “building on that momentum and relying on word-of-mouth marketing,” Sethares said.
“The building blocks for growth of the fund were there, but they hadn’t been linked into a strong foundation,” Sethares said. “I saw that more community outreach and education was key, both for donors and recipients, as was increasing board involvement and we needed the fund to be more accessible.”
By giving speaking engagements, Sethares also managed to raise awareness surrounding community needs and the Needy Fund’s potential to meet those needs.
“Sharing the work of the Needy Fund with every person I met became key to connecting donors to our mission,” Sethares said. “We also built trust with donors by being honest and transparent, and building faith in our ability to fulfill our mission.”
Sethares’ long and successful tenure at the Needy Fund has influenced many organizational changes over the past two decades. said Peter Meyer, Times publisher and president of the Cape Cod Times Needy Fund’s Board of Directors.
“Donations have increased tenfold and we’ve gone from one full-time employee to five employees,” he said. “She is a democratic, competent leader who has helped shape the Needy Fund into what it is today. She is a key lifeline to Cape Codders facing temporary hardships.”
Over the years, Sethares also constructed a culture of kindness and anonymity surrounding those who benefited from Needy Fund services. As a struggling single mother at one time, Sethares often reminded herself about how difficult it was to call on her own familial support system in her time of need.
“It’s hard to ask a stranger for aid to stay in a house, or to keep the lights on,” she said. “People often feel shame — it’s not an easy phone call.”
Throughout Sethares’ tenure, financial goal setting for Needy Fund ventures also took priority as she expanded organizational services. Every fall, along with the Needy Fund’s board of directors, monetary appeal targets were set based on the individual year’s economic environment. Sethares and her staff managed to not only meet those goals, but eventually surpassed fundraising objectives.
“It’s important to continue giving services at a certain level year-after-year and much goes into that planning,” she said. “Going beyond what we wanted to raise says a lot about the generosity of our community.”
In addition to the Needy Fund’s foundational services, Sethares was also instrumental in establishing the Cape Cod and Islands Major Crisis Relief Fund (MCRF) in 2016, an extension of the Needy Fund, which provides humanitarian aid on the Cape and Islands during human-made and natural disasters.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular, Judy Walden Scarafile, managing director of MCRF, said Sethares’ leadership “was essential.”
“The workload for the staff there increased tenfold and the community continued to heighten with peaks and valleys of need,” she said. “It was extremely intense, and Betsey and her staff did a remarkable job being extremely compassionate, committed and engaged.”
Mark Skala, president and chief executive officer of the Cape and Islands United Way, collaborated with the MCRF during the pandemic and calls Sethares’ energy and commitment to the Needy Fund extraordinary.
“People think about Cape Cod as a summer playground,” he said. “But there is also a dramatic need and Betsey has been at the forefront helping people address those needs through her Needy Fund stewardship.
The search for Sethares successor is ongoing and board members hope to have a new executive director in place by the end of the year. Sethares plans to overlap with her successor to ensure a smooth transition.
Joel Crowell, former CEO of the Cooperative Bank of Cape Cod and current member of the Needy Fund Board of Directors, said that with the help of fellow board members, Needy Fund staff and Sethares’ expertise, he anticipates a smooth transition.
“The organization has time to get this right and with Betsey’s help we can help shape the transition to make it easier for the next person coming in,” Crowell said. “Betsey has left quite a mark and we will always remember the true compassion she has had for her clients.”
And while Sethares is looking forward to traveling and spending more time with her new husband and extended family, she said it will be challenging to move on from her time at the Needy Fund — an organization where she could be collaborating with staff, board members and other nonprofit affiliations to build a better Cape Cod.
“Nonprofit work is intense and demanding and I want to create space for a new adventure,” she said. “But I am, and will always be, passionate about the mission of the Needy Fund and I leave that belief in the hands of the wonderful group of people that will ensure that the Needy Fund continues to thrive.”
Editor’s note: Due to a reporting error, in the original version of this story Judy Walden Scarafile’s last name was misspelled. The story has been corrected.
Contact Rachael Devaney at email@example.com.