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Nonprofit Management

Y’s Plan of Action

Dexter Johnson

Dexter Johnson says the Springfield Y’s move downtown is a significant cost savings, but there are other reasons why it makes sense.

The YMCA of Greater Springfield has had a long-standing policy: once someone has logged 50 years of continuous membership, their days of paying to work out are over.

Dexter Johnson, CEO of the nonprofit, told BusinessWest that there are at least a few dozen people currently taking advantage of this benefit, including one who recently crossed that threshold. “He was counting down the days until April 15, and kept reminding us,” said Johnson. “It’s a badge of honor for them.”

Some of those in this exclusive club can trace their membership back to when the YMCA was located a few blocks to the south of its current home on Chestnut Street, in the heart of the city’s downtown. And most all of them will be turning back the clock in a way and staying with the Y when it makes its move back downtown — to Tower Square — in a matter of weeks.

Johnson hasn’t officially polled these long-time members, but he has gathered some feedback on this move, one that has been accompanied by no end of questions concerning everything from where people will park to why this relocation was necessary, to where people might be able to swim a few months from now.

We’ll get to all those later. First, back to Johnson and those in the ‘membership is free’ club.

“We’re hoping that they stay with us through this transition, and most are keeping an open mind,” he said. “They understand that transition has to happen, it has to happen in life in general, and all businesses go through it some point. Our message to them has been, ‘just wait and come check it out; there’s no need to run somewhere else.’”

And this is the mindset — especially that open-minded part — that Johnson hopes all current members, prospective members, and the community at large will take as the Springfield Y, one of the oldest such institutions in the country, embarks on what will certainly be one of the most intriguing chapters in its history.

“We’re hoping that they stay with us through this transition, and most are keeping an open mind … Our message to them has been, ‘just wait and come check it out; there’s no need to run somewhere else.’”

The lease with Tower Square is for 10 years, and the ensuing decade will be spent exploring and perhaps implementing any of a number of options for securing long-term sustainability for the Y, a nonprofit that has struggled financially not only for the past several decades, but most of its existence, said Johnson, who has researched the matter thoroughly.

However, the fiscal picture became even darker in recent years, said Johnson, adding that the Y essentially reached a point where it needed to get out from under a half-century-old facility that had become an untenable money pit.

But while the move to Tower Square will ultimately save the Y roughly $150,000 a year, the relocation and sale of the property on Chestnut Street should be looked upon not merely as a cost-saving measure, but as a real opportunity for the agency.

Indeed, Johnson estimates there are at least 2,000 people working in Tower Square and the other office buildings abutting it, and within those ranks are undoubtedly people who could benefit from having a well-equipped gym just a few hundred feet from their office or cubicle. Likewise, there are parents perhaps looking for day-care services more convenient than the one they’re using.

Meanwhile, the Y will have a front-row seat for, and perhaps play an important role in, the revitalization of Springfield’s downtown.

“There’s a lot of activity happening downtown right now, and this gives us the opportunity to be part of that rejuvenation that’s going on,” he said.

These are just some of the ‘glass-more-than-half-full’ takes that Johnson has concerning the Y’s new home. For this issue and its focus on nonprofits, he offered much more on how and why this step was taken and what it means for this institution.

Positive Steps

As he talked with BusinessWest in his office at the Chestnut Street facility, Johnson said the Y recently received an appraisal ($1.3 million) on the building — or, to be more specific, the non-residential component, with the five-story living quarters having already been acquired by Home City Housing — and said the property will go on the market later this month.

When asked to speculate on possible future uses, potential buyers, and degree of retrofitting likely to be involved, he obliged.

“If it was a school that really wanted a pool and a basketball court, then there wouldn’t be as much repurposing to do,” he explained. “But if someone wanted to turn it into office or retail space, then obviously there would be significantly more repurposing.”

But at present, Johnson has his mind on many other matters beyond what will hopefully be a quick sale, especially the work to get the Y’s new digs, especially the child-care component, ready for primetime, meaning August by his calculations.

But before we go there, we need to go back and discuss the many factors that brought us to this moment. Recapping, albeit quickly, Johnson said a number of factors and circumstances in recent years — everything from escalating competition in the fitness business to the miscalculation that was the Y branch that opened in Agawam in 2014 and subsequently closed less than two years later, to the ever-rising costs of operating and maintaining the Chestnut Street facility — brought the Y to the point where something needed to be done, and soon.

He said a number of options have been considered in recent years, from new construction — pegged at $12 million to $15 million — to renovation of the existing structure, to retrofitting another building. But the numbers didn’t seem to work with any of them.

A different kind of option presented itself when the new owners of Tower Square — even before they actually owned the property — approached Johnson about the prospects of the Y moving there.

“There’s a lot of activity happening downtown right now, and this gives us the opportunity to be part of that rejuvenation that’s going on.”

And the talks quickly escalated to action.

“The opportunity at Tower Square was chosen because it did allow us to make a quicker move than any other options we explored,” he explained, adding that, as those talks continued, a plan emerged that would bring the old Y, or at least most of it, to two different locations within Tower Square. The childcare unit would be relocated to an area on the ground floor, formerly occupied by Valley Venture Mentors, a travel bureau, dry cleaners, and other businesses. Meanwhile, the wellness center would be located in a large space across from the Food Court, perhaps best known in recent years as the home to the Boys and Girls Club’s Festival of Trees.

The two sides came to an official agreement in the spring, and work has been ongoing at the childcare facilities and, more recently, the wellness center. Meanwhile, logistics have been worked out regarding parking — members can park for free in the Tower Square parking garage — and for the dropoff and pickup of children at childcare in a designated area created along Bridge Street.

The Y will be trading its current 85,000 square feet of space for less than half that (35,000 square feet), said Johnson, but a good portion of the existing footprint is unused or underutilized anyway, including the basketball court and squash courts, which in recent years have been put to other uses. And there are options available for adding more space in the future.

The move is somewhat unusual, but not without precedent, he added, noting that, as the retail scene changes and many YMCAs face fiscal challenges and upkeep expenses at aging facilities, some have found new homes in closed malls and supermarkets, and others, like Hartford’s, have found their way back downtown.

Space Exploration

But while a move to Tower Square was the most sensible option on many levels, it obviously comes with a good amount of risk, Johnson acknowledged, noting that the downtown location brings with it questions, challenges, and limitations.

Starting with the obvious lack of a pool.

Johnson said there are a number of members who make use of the pool at the Chestnut Street location — just how many he couldn’t say — but these individuals will certainly be among those who won’t be going with the Y to its new home.

“The question about the pool is the one that’s raised the most, and that’s a loss for us, no question about it — especially for the adults who use the pool for lap swimming,” he noted. “But for us, that’s not a huge number right now. The pool sees more activity from youth swim lessons and exercise classes happening in the pool, and we’re looking to continue those at other sites.”

Elaborating, he said the Y is exploring partnerships with a number of entities, including Boys and Girls Clubs, schools in Springfield, and other facilities.

As for the membership in general, Johnson said there have been a lot of questions and some anxiety about the move, both of which were expected. But he believes when the dust settles — literally and figuratively — most will stay with the Y.

“There are a lot of great members who have been here 40 and 50 years — we have some long-term members who are used to being here,” he said. “Once they’ve seen the renderings of what the new place will look like and they understand that it’s the same great staff … they’ll realize that, if everyone goes over, then the small groups that have formed and the friendships that have formed can continue.

“We’re not looking to change any of that,” he went on. “We’d just like to change the location and create something that’s more attractive to new membership.”

Overall, Johnson is expecting an attrition rate of perhaps 20% among the Springfield Y’s roughly 1,100 members, a number he admits is a calculated guess based on the feedback he’s received.

That’s a big number, but he’s optimistic when it comes to the prospects for recovering those losses with new members, especially from the ranks of those working in and around Tower Square, a number that will climb by roughly 200 with the arrival of Wellfleet in August (see related story, page 39).

Johnson acknowledged there are already a few gyms downtown — one at the Sheraton hotel in Monarch Place and another just a block down the street at 1350 Main St. — but none right in Tower Square. And none that have the far-reaching mission of the YMCA, where dollars spent on a fitness membership ultimately wind up helping fund a number of youth programs within the community.

He’s already reached out to those at the UMass campus located on the second floor of Tower Square and plans to do the same with Cambridge College, located on the ground floor. Meanwhile, the Y is planning a membership drive and grand-opening specials, to help spur interest in the new facility, as well as half-hour classes designed specifically for business people on tight schedules.

The Shape of Things to Come

In discussing the move to Tower Square, Johnson refrained from describing the new mailing address with the term ‘temporary,’ although he hinted strongly that it probably won’t be permanent.

“As we looked to our future, we saw this as a great opportunity for more immediate stability,” he told BusinessWest. “Our options are open to continue once we get this move done and stabilize ourselves a little bit. I wouldn’t call this ‘temporary,’ but I also wouldn’t say it doesn’t mean that we’re not going to explore standalone ownership somewhere else in Springfield down the road.”

In other words, the move buys the Y some precious time and, by all accounts, a much better chance than it previously had of putting itself on better financial footing for the short and long term.

Which means that, in most all respects, this was a gamble worth taking.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]m

Nonprofit Management

In Good Company

Jennifer Connelly, left, and Dawn Creighton

Jennifer Connelly, left, and Dawn Creighton display promotional materials for the JA Inspire program’s career-exploration fair set for May 28.

The 100th Anniversary Gala for Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts will have a decidedly ’20s flair — as in the 1920s. In fact, the theme is “The Roaring ’20s are Back.”

Attendees are encouraged, but not required, to come in period dress, a challenge that Jennifer Connelly, executive director of the local JA chapter, met (with considerable help from her daughter) by doing a hard search online that yielded the appropriate dress as well as a headband with a feather.

“I’ll have the long gloves and the long cigarette holder — a full outfit; it will be very interesting to see what people come up with to mark the ’20s,” she said with a trace of understatement in her voice.

But while the gala will amount to an effort to turn back the clock in many respects, Junior Achievement, and especially its Western Mass. chapter, have been turning the clock forward, focusing on the 2020s — and the decades to follow — with a host of programs that are seemingly far removed from the organization’s original mission to introduce young people to the principles of business — but then again, not very far removed at all.

Programs like JA Inspire.

Created by a coalition of education and industry leaders led by JA of Western Mass., this endeavor is designed to introduce young people to industry sectors and careers, and also provide awareness of what skills will be needed to thrive in those settings.

At the heart of the initiative is a massive career fair set for May 28 at the MassMutual Center that won’t follow the typical model for such events.

Actually, it will, but the audience will be decidedly different. Instead of people looking for jobs they can enter in a few weeks or even a few days, those roaming the aisles will be middle- and high-school students gaining information on jobs they might fill sometime in the next decade.

“We’re going to have representatives of a number of industry clusters, and we’ll also have representatives of the post-secondary schools in this area,” said Connelly, “so students can understand that there is a pathway to a career that they might be interested in.”

In many respects, JA has always been about identifying and illuminating pathways, and JA Inspire is just one example of how this nonprofit has stayed true to its original mission while also evolving over the years and expanding into programs, 23 of them in all, for students in grades K-12, said Connelly.

These programs provide lessons in everything from how government works to how large a slice of one’s paycheck the IRS takes; from how global the global economy truly is to the all-important difference between a ‘want’ and a ‘need’ when it comes to how one spends their money, she said, adding that, to get these messages across, JA relies (as it has throughout its history) on volunteers.

“We try to make that match between what they’re learning and why it’s important, and it’s very rewarding work.”

People like Sharon Dufour, chief financial officer at Ludlow-based LUSO Federal Credit Union and a JA volunteer for more than 30 years, 20 of them in this market. She has been instrumental in bringing JA programs into schools in the Wilbraham/Ludlow area, and also in moving beyond traditional school-banking initiatives — where students learn the basics of banking — and into financial literacy.

She’s taught at all levels, including seventh grade and a program called “JA is My Future,” which helps students understand the value of what they’re learning.

“It helps them understand the skills they’ll need for specific jobs,” she explained,” adding that, in the last full school year, LUSO helped coordinate 130 classes for Junior Achievement, reaching 2,810 students. “We try to make that match between what they’re learning and why it’s important, and it’s very rewarding work.”

Julie Ann Pelletier agreed. A retired transplant to the Berkshires just over a decade ago, she was looking for volunteer work to take on and certainly found it with JA — she now coordinates the agency’s programs across the Berkshires.

One of them is an initiative to promote entrepreneurship in high-school students, for which they needed a product that students could design, make, market, and sell. Pelletier helped inspire one — crocheted hats (she teaches that art).

Fast-forwarding, she said she wound up teaching a number of Putnam Vocational Academy students that skill, and a few of them went on to start their own businesses and eventually win business competitions as they moved their ventures forward.

“I’m 72, and they’re 17, so they called it ‘Twisting the Generations,’ — it was the old school teaching the new school,” she said, summing up quickly and efficiently what JA, and its volunteers, have been doing for the past century.

For this issue and its focus on nonprofits, BusinessWest examines all that JA is celebrating as its marks an important milestone — 100 years of not only teaching young people about business, but preparing them for all that life can throw at them.

Getting Down to Business

Connelly told BusinessWest that JA’s 100th birthday bash will be a year-long celebration, one that has a number of goals, from honoring the past to raising awareness of its many programs and initiatives in an effort to ensure sustainability.

It will be capped, in most respects, by a series of events on Sept. 28, when JA National, as it’s called, which is based in Colorado, will stage JA Day at the Big E, home to the first Junior Achievement building ever erected — funded by Horace Moses, president of Strathmore Paper Co., and one of three men who founded JA in 1919. There will be a parade, speeches, and a dinner, and Connelly is expecting representatives from many of the 107 JA chapters nationwide to be in attendance.

Jennifer Connelly says JA has evolved considerably

Jennifer Connelly says JA has evolved considerably over the past century, but remains true to its original mission.

Locally, the immediate focus is on the May 4 gala, to be staged at MGM Springfield, an event expected to draw more than 300 people. The list of attendees includes two descendants of U.S. Sen. Murray Crane of Massachusetts, another of the founders (the third was Theodore Vail, president of AT&T), as well as a representative of Strathmore Paper.

So there will be significant ties to the past, said Connelly, adding that the gala will honor the agency’s founders, but also all the change and evolution that has come over the past century, and there has been quite a bit of both, as her quick history lesson shows.

“When they founded JA 100 years ago, it started off with what they called the company program,” she explained. “Students came together, formed a company, and sold a product; they envisioned a way to help young people transitioning from an agrarian-based economy to a manufacturing-based economy.”

A glass display case in the front lobby of the JA’s offices on the second floor of Tower Square holds artifacts that speak to those early days of the company program, everything from ribbons awarded at a competition in the mid-1920s to a wooden lamp built by area high-school students to later sell. (Connelly isn’t sure of the date on that item, but guesses it’s from the mid-’70s.

The student-company initiative continues to this day, she said proudly, noting that a number of area high schools run the program after school, during the summer, and as part of the regular school day.

Pathfinder Regional High School, for example, has expanded its program to includes a Facebook page, she said, adding that one class is enjoying success with selling a brush designed for pets called Brush It Off.

But over the past 30 years or so, JA has taken on a broader role, one certainly in keeping with the founders’ intent, especially within the realm of financial literacy. And that role will likely become deeper still following the passage of a bill in January that allows state education officials to establish standards around financial literacy, which schools could incorporate into their existing curricula in subjects like math, business, and social sciences.

The standards will be guidelines, not a mandate, said Connelly, adding that, for those schools who wish to adopt these guidelines, JA could become a partner in helping to bring those lessons home.

The agency already provides a wide array of financial-literacy programs to students in grades K-12, she noted, citing, as one example, something called the Credit for Life Fair, staged recently at Elms College, a program created for high-school students.

Students essentially choose a field, are given a budget, and are presented a number of options on how to spend their money — from investments to essentials like housing, a car, and groceries, as well as ‘fun’ items. They then visit with a credit counselor to review their choices and discuss the consequences of each one.

“These are great learning experiences,” Connelly said of the fair, several of which are conducted each year. “They actually get to see that, even if they get a good job and make a lot of money, that money doesn’t go too far. And they learn about the importance of having a good credit score; they can be a doctor and make a lot of money, but if they have a bad credit score, that’s going to hurt them down the road.”

The Job at Hand

While JA is providing young people with a look at life in a chosen profession through these Credit for Life programs — well, sort of — it is also introducing them to industry sectors, career paths, and specific jobs through initiatives like the JA Inspire program and the aforementioned event at the MassMutual Center.

The formal name of that gathering is the Inspire Career Exploration Fair, and that’s appropriate, because that’s what the attendees will be doing — exploring. And while they’re doing that, area employers might be getting some help with the biggest problem they face these days — securing a workforce for the future.

“Every employer in every industry sector is experiencing workforce shortages,” said Dawn Creighton, Western Mass. director for Associated Industries of Massachuetts, which came on board as a sponsor of the initiative early on and has been encouraging its members to take part. “People are not ready for the workforce, whether it’s vocational skills, technical skills, soft skills — they’re not ready.”

The career-exploration fair was conceived to help ensure that the next generation of workers is more ready, she went on, by not just introducing young people to career possibilities they may or may not have known about, but also spell out for them what it will take to land such a position in terms of skills and education.

And that’s why the event has caught the attention of businesses in several sectors, from manufacturing to healthcare to financial services, and from every corner of the 413, said Creighton, adding that all see a chance to open some eyes.

“All too often, these types of career days come during the spring of senior year, and by then it’s often too late,” she told BusinessWest. “We need to introduce young people to all the career opportunities out there, and we need to do it earlier.”

Sharon Dufour, long-time volunteer with JA

Sharon Dufour, long-time volunteer with JA, is seen here with third-graders as she provides lessons about zoning and building a city.

Thus, the fair, as noted, is an example of how JA’s mission has evolved and the agency has moved beyond the classroom in many respects. But area schools are where most of JA’s life lessons are delivered, a tradition that began a century ago and continues today through the work of teachers and especially volunteers.

Dufour has worked to recruit them for years and said more are always needed to help JA reach more young people.

“I tell every volunteer I know that it’s the most rewarding experience you can imagine,” she said. “The kids see you; they remember you. I once had a kid come flying across the Stop & Shop to give me a big hug. Her mother said, ‘my daughter does not stop talking about you.’”

Pelletier agreed, and said the rewards from volunteering come in many flavors, especially the satisfaction that comes from seeing a light go on in a young person’s eyes as they realize their potential to take an idea or a skill (like crocheting) and run with it.

“Once people get the basics, they fly,” she said, referring specifically to crocheting, but also to the many principles of business in general. “And it’s incredibly exciting to watch it happen.”

Past Is Prologue

“The future of our country depends upon making every individual fully realize the obligations and responsibilities belonging to citizenship. Habits are formed in youth. What we need in this country now is to teach the growing generations to realize that thrift and economy, coupled with industry, are as necessary now as they were in past generations.”

Theodore Vail spoke those words a century or so ago when JA was in its infancy. But they certainly ring true today, especially that part about habits being formed in youth.

Helping young people develop the right habits has been JA’s informal mission for 100 years now. There are now more ways in which in that mission is being carried out, but it’s still about pathways and putting people on the right ones.

And that’s a proud history worth celebrating.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Nonprofit Management

Sustainable Concept

Patrick Callahan doesn’t know exactly where the image originated.

It was a Facebook post about a community overseas that had set up a refrigerator on the side of a street to provide the homeless with leftovers offered by the local community.

“I think it was in India, but I really can’t be sure,” said Callahan, adding quickly that the exact location wasn’t and isn’t really important. What is important is the concept and the proactive, imaginative response to the needs of the homeless.

And what’s more important still is the way it inspired him to not only ask what could be done in this region — a thought experiment, as he called it — but to help answer that question.

“I thought to myself, we should be doing something like that refrigerator,” said Callahan, a member of the emerging third generation involved with Palmer Paving Corp., who approached the principals there, including his aunt, Jan, about leveraging the company’s many relationships within the communities it serves and building upon its long history of giving back to address obvious needs.

That ‘something’ is an emerging and intriguing story called Nicebox, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit created in 2016 to address the many needs of the homeless.

One of the original ideas — and it is still being talked about on many levels — was to install solar-powered vending machines in strategic locations that would, in exchange for a certain amount of recyclables, dispense a Nicebox, a pack filled with items the homeless can use. While discussions on machines continued, talk also focused on exactly what should go into these packs, said Pat Callahan, adding that, eventually, it was determined that several different kinds of packs are needed, including those filled with food, hygiene items, and healthcare needs.

And the newly created nonprofit set about creating some of these packs, starting with the one that has come to be called the Tidypack. It contains a host of hygiene products, including soap, shampoo, conditioner, a razor and shaving cream, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and more.

Working with the Friends of the Homeless, part of Clinical & Support Options (CSO), Nicebox has distributed more than 3,000 of these packs to date, said Pat Callahan, adding that the boxes are catching on, and so is that name, Tidypack, thanks to a true partnership with Friends of the Homeless.

“We’ve been working in close concert with them,” she explained. “Originally, we had an idea for the Tidypack — let’s give them these products. But then we took a step back and said, ‘let’s go in and see what they really need.’ So we sat down with the team at Friends of the Homeless and determined what they really needed.”

The packs can last an individual a week or more, said Jan, adding that the cost of filling one — thanks to wholesale purchases and discounts given to nonprofits — is roughly the same as that for a gourmet coffee, and this is the message Nicebox is spreading as it goes about enlisting support for its efforts.

“To help someone stay clean for a week only costs $2.50,” she noted. “When you think of an individual who’s struggling, you can help them for the same as it would cost to buy to a coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts.”

Pat Callahan and his aunt, Jan, say customers and partners of Palmer Paving have supported Nicebox early on, and they want to see that support expand outward.

And the nonprofit has secured quite a bit of help, she went on, noting that while Nicebox does some fundraising — she recently conducted an appeal on Facebook — it has thus far mostly relied on the support of customers, vendors, and other partners of Palmer Paving.

“With the reach that Palmer Paving has, we’ve been sending out sort of ad hoc requests for donations within our group of friends and company friends, and they’ve been supportive of this,” she told BusinessWest.

And support is needed as the nonprofit looks to not only expand the presence of the Tidypack, but also move forward with another type of assistance package — the Healthpack.

Indeed, Nicebox is collaborating with Mercy Medical Center, which already has a strong track record for work with the homeless in and around Springfield, to introduce the packs this summer.

They will include such items as a clean pair of socks, Band-Aids, ointment, a sewing kit, and other items, said Pat Callahan, and will be distributed by the medical center to those who, for whatever reason, will not come to a homeless shelter.

Moving forward, Pat and Jan noted that those involved with Nicebox have been working diligently over the past two years to track their progress and results, with the goal of using the accumulated data to apply for grants from foundations and other entities so the nonprofit doesn’t have to rely on donations and can expand its efforts geographically and through initiatives that might include a Nicebox on wheels that can distribute packs to a wider area.

Mercy Medical Center is part of the national Trinity Health system, noted Pat Callahan, adding that this affiliation may become a vehicle for taking the Healthpacks regional and perhaps national. Already, the nonprofit has become involved with some initatives in the Hartford area.

Meanwhile, Nicebox is also taking steps to increase its visibility through a number of initiatives, including booths at events like the upcoming Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival and others like it.

Overall, Nicebox is focused on putting its mission on a rock-solid foundation and continually building — those sound like phrases that would be heard at Palmer Paving — on a concept grounded in meeting need.

Like Patrick Callahan said, he’s not sure where that Facebook post of the refrigerator on the side of the road originated from. What matters is that he saw it, he was inspired by it, and he’s working with others to find similarly unique ways to help those who need some.

— George O’Brien

Nonprofit Management Sections

Strong Foundation

By Kathleen Mellen

eureka-2The reach of Girls Inc. of Holyoke — which operates programs for elementary-school-aged girls as well as teenagers — is striking, serving more than 1,750 girls each year through programs, peer education, and community outreach on a budget of $1.3 million. But other numbers are more impressive, such as statistics showing that Girls Inc. participants are more likely than their peers to get good grades, attend college, and find learning fun and valuable. What it all adds up to is a priceless foundation for success.

You could call it a lunch break on wheels.

Every Monday through Friday during the school year, Dianette Marrero uses her lunch hour to drive her daughters, Jasminn, 7, and Tatianna, 10, from their hometown of Chicopee to 52 Nick Cosmos Way in Holyoke, where the girls attend a licensed after-school program for ages 5 to 12, sponsored by Girls Inc. of Holyoke. And when her workday is done, Marrero returns to pick her daughters up.

Marrero says she doesn’t mind the drive in the least. She’s been sold on the nonprofit organization that educates and empowers girls from underserved communities ever since her daughters started attending its girls-only after-school program nearly two years ago. Through the program’s breadth of activities — including an in-depth literacy program, educational field trips, outdoor activities, and experiential, hands-on learning opportunities — she says her daughters are learning to be confident and motivated young women.

“Girls Inc. allows the girls to be confident with their peers,” Marrero told BusinessWest. “We’re a girls-only family, so this has been great for my daughters.”

Stella Cabrera, 16, has had a similarly positive experience: she has participated in nearly every program offered by Girls Inc. of Holyoke since joining up in the fifth grade. She first heard about the organization from a friend, and pleaded with her mother to let her attend.

The Girls Inc. Eureka! program is a STEM-based approach to education

The Girls Inc. Eureka! program is a STEM-based approach to education that places girls in labs and classrooms at UMass Amherst for intensive training.

“I was getting bullied by boys at school, and I wanted to try something new,” Cabrera said in an interview at the Girls Inc. administrative office and teen center at 6 Open Way in Holyoke. “It was really exciting because I’d never been in a place where it was just girls.”

Since then, she’s become more confident, and she credits Girls Inc. with the transformation.

“When I started out, I was a really shy person; I didn’t talk to many people,” she said. “Now I make friends with everybody. I don’t judge people. I’ve learned to accept people for who they are.”

Testimonials like these are music to Suzanne Parker’s ears.

“It’s our mission to inspire girls,” said Parker, the organization’s executive director. “The work that we’re doing, helping them to be successful, is really important.”

Girls Inc. of Holyoke, formerly the Holyoke Girls Club, operates programs for elementary-school-aged girls, as well as Holyoke’s only teen center just for girls. Serving more than 1,750 girls each year through programs, peer education, and community outreach, the organization aims to equip girls to navigate gender, economic, and social barriers, and grow up to be healthy, educated, and independent. It is one of more than 90 Girls Inc. affiliates of a network across the U.S. and Canada that serves more than 138,000 girls, ages 5 to 18.

“The programs we provide are developed to meet the very specific needs of girls,” Parker said. “Having the research and the support of the national organization really helps us with that.”

Why Girls Only?

Girls live in a society with different expectations about success for boys and girls, Parker said, and Girls Inc. aims to close that gap. By teaching personal-development and communications skills, conflict resolution and problem solving, and how to make healthy choices relating to their bodies and relationships, it aims to “inspire girls to be strong, smart, and bold by offering life-changing experiences and real solutions to the unique issues girls face,” according to its website.

“We work to build up their confidence, making sure they have self-esteem, but first and foremost, we make sure they’re exposed to opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise have,” Parker said. “All of those things are best done, we feel, in a girl-only environment, where they feel safe. They know they have a sisterhood here.”

From left, Girls Inc. of Holyoke participants Brandy Wilson and Stella Cabrera with Executive Director Suzanne Parker.

From left, Girls Inc. of Holyoke participants Brandy Wilson and Stella Cabrera with Executive Director Suzanne Parker.

The organization’s hallmarks are its mentoring programs, the girls-only environment, and its research-based, hands-on approach to learning. It also advocates for legislation and policies to increase opportunities for all girls.

The staff includes 11 full-time and four part-time professionals year-round, as well as an additional eight to 10 staff members who work in the full-day summer programs. In addition, more than 100 community members volunteer with the organization in a number of ways.

Nearly 70% of those who attend programs at Girls Inc. of Holyoke live in households earning $30,000 a year or less; one in 10 lives below the $10,000 line. The majority of members are Latina, Parker noted. While most live in Holyoke, some come from Chicopee, like Jasminn and Tatianna, and others live in Longmeadow, Wilbraham, South Hadley, Westfield, and West Springfield.

The organization’s newest strategic plan includes initiatives to broaden the organization’s reach, with in-school programs now being developed in Holyoke’s Peck Middle School, as well as Alfred G. Zanetti Montessori Magnet School and M. Marcus Kiley Middle School, both in Springfield.

In April, the organization was one of 17 Girls Inc. affiliates to receive a three-year grant award of $100,000 from the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation to expand strategically to serve more girls growing up in low-income communities.

“Girls Inc. of Holyoke has a strong track record of making a measurable difference in the lives of girls,” said Judy Vredenburgh, president and CEO of Girls Inc. “As a well-run, sound organization, they are poised for expansion and growth, preparing more girls for responsible and confident adulthood, economic independence, and personal fulfillment.”

The programming reflects those initiatives, and its successes are measurable. For example, according to a national survey, one in six girls will not finish high school; by contrast, three-quarters of high-school girls who attend Girls Inc. programs report earning As and Bs on report cards, and 85% say they plan to attend college.

Finding Their Voice

Still, Parker said, girls who do well in math and science can pay a price socially at school, where they are often teased, even bullied, by other students. “We hear it from girls all the time. Bullying continues to be a major issue with girls across the country. And when you’re in school and you’re facing that, it’s hard to be successful.”

Girls Inc. addresses these gender-specific problems — and, more importantly, crafts solutions — in its girls-only environment.

“In order to be successful, girls have to have confidence, and they have to understand they have a voice and that they have the tools needed to be successful in that co-educational world we all live in,” she told BusinessWest. “There’s a need to provide a space for girls where they can come together, where they can take risks, try things they wouldn’t otherwise try.”

To that end, the organization fashions programs that promote academic success for girls in fields previously thought to be the domain of males. Chief among them is the Eureka! program, a STEM-based approach to education for eighth- through 12th-graders, which places girls in labs and classrooms at UMass Amherst for intensive training in science, technology, engineering, and math.

More than 100 girls are currently involved in Eureka!, attending the program for four weeks in the summer and on one Saturday a month during the school year, where they work with UMass professors who volunteer their time to offer hands-on experiences in fields like nanoscience, robotics, DNA research, and forensic science. In addition, the students are active daily in physical fitness and sports training, healthy living, and financial literacy.

Data shows that girls participating in Eureka! stay engaged in math and science throughout high school; many go on to higher education, often becoming the first in their family to attend a college or university, Parker noted. According to a recent survey, the percentage of girls participating in the program who identify themselves as “smart” increased by 13%, girls who think math is fun and interesting increased by 10%; and girls who feel comfortable in science class increased by more than 20%.

“Exposing girls to STEM skills and proficiencies is absolutely critical,” she went on. “While they might not all go into traditional STEM careers, the types of skills they’re learning, and the exposure they’re having, is absolutely critical. I believe that to the core.”

In the same survey, more girls also reported a positive body image, and nearly 90% of Eureka! girls see school as an opportunity “to learn as much as I can.” It also showed that the percentage of girls planning to go to a four-year college increased more than 10%.

Cabrera, now a high-school junior, and one of the original Eureka! scholars, wants to be a math teacher, and plans to attend college after she graduates from high school.

“I’ll be the first grandchild [in my family] to graduate and plan to go to college,” she said, adding that the program has significantly bolstered her confidence. “I really thrive, and I’ve gotten so much support for being strong. It’s a really inspiring program, and it really does help girls to understand their power and their impact on the world, and the amount of strength they have in themselves that they probably haven’t tapped yet.”

Avenues of Support

Girls Inc. of Holyoke’s annual budget is about $1.3 million, with between 55% and 60% of funding coming from the state. As a licensed after-school provider, it receives some funding from the state Department of Early Care. The teen center also receives support from the state Department of Public Health to run programs in pregnancy prevention and youth violence prevention. Specifically, the organization’s Healthy Relationships module helps girls learn to “identify, establish, and cultivate healthy relationships through assertiveness and negotiation skills,” and Project Bold works to “ensure that girls have the skills, knowledge, and support to be safe and reduce their risk of experiencing violence.”

But, Parker says, those funds don’t begin to cover the cost of providing a high-quality experience. For the past 10 years, the organization has held a Spirit of Girls breakfast, its signature fund-raising event; this year, on April 4 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke, a record crowd of about 450 people donated more than $140,000.

The organization also relies on foundation grants, as well as corporate and private donors. Indeed, Parker says there’s been a significant uptick in recent years in support from individuals. For example, participation in the three-year-old Champion for Girls initiative, through which individuals donate $1,000 or more, has risen from 15 annual donors to close to 100.

The organization also launched a program this year for ‘corporate champions,’ which is also seeing growing success, Parker said, with recent donations from CheckWriters Payroll, MassMutual, and PeoplesBank.

“Companies are definitely seeing the value of partnering with Girls Inc.,” she added. “We have to work hard; we’re always looking for people who are interested in investing in our work. We can’t do it alone.”

That work continues to enrich the lives of its members, from the STEM education of Eureka! to myriad teen-center programs offered on a drop-in basis, including art, creative writing, spoken-word expression, computer coding, and entrepreneurship, among others, as well as myriad field trips, classes, and workshops.

The success-based programming is not just reserved for the older girls. Last year, for example, a group of younger students, including Jasminn and Tatianna, developed a business model for a lemonade stand and put it into practice; the girls tested their lemonade recipe, did a market survey, and created a business plan to determine how much were they would charge for the lemonade. Then they launched their business in a real-life setting, setting up their stand at Celebrate Holyoke. Finally, the girls deposited the proceeds into a bank account and, together, decided how they would spend it.

That program, like others at Girls Inc. of Holyoke, builds a knowledge base that is useful in the real world, while building self-confidence, said Brandy Wilson, director of middle- and high-school programs.

“It’s all about exploring their options. So many times, girls who come in from what we consider an underserved community don’t know what their options are,” she explained. “We’re giving the girls experiences that make that lightbulb go off — that makes them realize, ‘I can do this.’”

Nonprofit Management Sections

Growing Opportunities

Peter Gagliardi

Peter Gagliardi says Way Finders’ mission comes down to helping people solve problems, not just getting them into homes.

When the Housing Allowance Project opened its doors in 1973, the idea of providing people with assistance to pay their rent was a novel concept.

“Giving people a housing allowance was a radical concept, but poor people were concentrated in projects and high-rises that had become real problems, especially in large cities,” said Peter Gagliardi, president and chief executive officer of Way Finders in Springfield and Holyoke. “Many were poorly built and filled with children who had no place to play other than the hallways and elevators, so the idea was to stop building projects where the poor were all housed in one place, and give people choices about where they could live.“

HAPHousing, which changed its name to Way Finders on March 31, was one of 10 sites across the country selected to host a three-year experimental federal pilot program to provide this rental assistance. The project led to the creation of Section 8 housing, a federal program that provides vouchers to low-income families, the elderly, and people with disabilities to help them afford decent, safe places to live in the private market.

When the pilot program morphed into Section 8, HAPHousing was tasked by the state to administer it in Hampden and Hampshire counties. But today, that is only a small part of the scope of its work, which has extended into many arenas.

The organization holds periodic strategic planning sessions, and in 2014 it became clear that its name and narrative did not convey the agency’s purpose and may have led potential clients to believe they couldn’t find the help they needed from their staff.

“Our old name didn’t provide a sense of the magnitude of our work,” Gagliardi said, noting that, although the Section 8 housing program still exists, 28,600 people in Hampden and Hampshire counties and more than 100,000 people across the state are on waiting lists. Since new vouchers are not being issued given today’s turnover rate, the statewide wait equates to 166 years.

“People need better options than vouchers that don’t exist,” he continued, explaining that the agency’s clients have needs ranging from finding jobs to getting an education, improving their credit scores, and other measures that open up opportunities for a better life.

“Getting people into homes is important, but having a roof that is affordable over your head is just the beginning,” Gagliardi noted, as he spoke about difficulties homeless families face and the multi-faceted approach Way Finders takes to connect clients to appropriate resources.

The organization’s history has been marked by many twists and turns as it responded to crises caused by changes in the economy, so choosing an appropriate new name was important to everyone who worked there.

HAP hired TSM Design in Springfield to facilitate the effort. The name Way Finders resulted from a collaborative brainstorming effort by staff members dedicated to ensuring their moniker reflected their mission, coupled with the creativity of TSM Design, which was responsible for suggesting names that matched the passion and commitment of the staff. Every employee participated in a survey that asked them about the most important part of their job, and a committee of 12 was eventually formed to represent the findings and share the thinking of the staff as a whole.

“Our mission came down to finding a way to help people solve problems. It begins by finding them a decent place to live, but we wanted to let the public know that we offer a wide range of programs through collaborations with partners that include finding jobs for people who don’t know where to start,” Gagliardi said, noting that, in the past three and a half years, the agency has helped place 480 people into jobs as an alternative to those non-existent housing vouchers he talked about.

Indeed, the new name is fitting because clients literally need help finding their way to a better life.

“We started out with a staff of about 20, and this year we have 250 employees who are very mindful of our philosophy,” Gagliardi said. “When they go home at the end of a day, they know that someone has a better home or opportunity in life than they did when they arrived.”

Over the past four decades, the organization has grown from an experimental housing-assistance program to an agency that provides rental assistance, housing-support services for homeless families as well as prevention, education about home ownership, foreclosure counseling, real-estate development, property and asset management, and community building and engagement in neighborhoods to improve health and safety.

For this issue and its focus on nonprofits, BusinessWest looks at the storied history of Way Finders and how the agency stepped in to help people and improve the community through the many changes in the economy.

Critical Response

When the Housing Allowance Program morphed into the Section 8 housing program, the state Department of Housing and Community Development hired eight regional agencies to administer it, including HAPHousing.

“For the first time, people in every town and city in the state had an opportunity to live where they wanted,” Gagliardi noted.

During the early ’80s, HAP added a program for first-time homebuyers that included information about how families could strengthen their credit so they would be eligible for bank loans. Some were purchasing multi-family houses, so they also needed to learn how to become a good landlord, and HAP published a manual that contained all of this and more, which has undergone multiple revisions and is sold on Amazon.

By the mid-’80s, homelessness had become a glaring problem, and HAPHousing opened Prospect House in Springfield, which was the first family shelter in Massachusetts funded by the state.

“We started out with nine families and a manager,” Gagliardi said, noting that the shelter is still operating and the program has served thousands of people.

In the ’90s, when the U.S. entered a recession, HAP took action again and focused its efforts on distressed properties on Byers Street in Springfield. Its work led to the creation of the Armory Quadrangle Civic Assoc., which still exists and plays an active role in the neighborhood.

HAPHousing continued to acquire properties and create affordable housing as the years went on, and eventually became involved in the Old Hill neighborhood after a Springfield College study showed it was home to 4,500 people and 150 vacant lots and boarded-up buildings.

“About 10% of the residential properties were blighted, and we worked with the neighborhood, the city, Springfield College, and our housing partners, Springfield Neighborhood Housing Services and Habitat for Humanity, to renovate properties that could be saved and replace housing that couldn’t be repaired. We also filled in some of the vacant lots with new homes,” said Gagliardi, adding that the collaboration between Springfield College, HAPHousing, and Habitat resulted in 50 new or renovated homes.

After the recent recession hit in 2008, HAP again took the lead in helping homeless families. It created a new partnership with the Center for Human Development and New England Farm Workers Council in anticipation of the state’s new HomeBASE program, and when the tornado hit in 2011, representatives from all three groups were able to work with the city and others to help more than 400 displaced families.

“These groups had never joined forces before, and the way everyone worked together was unprecedented. By the time FEMA showed up, we were already getting people into housing,” Gagliardi noted.

After that was accomplished, HAPHousing began implementation of the state’s new HomeBASE program, which offers an alternative to living in a shelter for families at serious risk of becoming homeless. It provides them with time-limited assistance that allows them to find long-term accommodations and get help from stabilization services, which is paid for buy the state.

But this avenue wasn’t new to HAP, because it had pioneered a program in the ’80s that worked with landlords and tenants to negotiate settlements to prevent homelessness. It had attorneys on staff and was able to resolve many situations that would otherwise have resulted in eviction.

Programs to prevent homelessness continue to be offered, although they have changed over the years. Gagliardi said many clients have lost jobs and fallen behind in their rent, missed work due to illness, or been part of a family breakup that led them to get behind in their rent. “These situations can easily spiral out of control if they are not addressed,” he told BusinessWest.

The current program, known as RAFT (Residential Assistance for Families in Transition), serves 600 to 700 families a year at an average cost of $2,500, which is a small investment compared to the $3,000 a month it costs the state to house a family in a shelter, especially since the average length of stay is six months.

But HAP has always stepped in when it was needed, and in 2008, it played a significant role in the formation of the Western Mass. Foreclosure Prevention Center.

“The number of people losing their homes was staggering, and we helped families through a partnership with the attorney general’s office that saved their homes or allowed them to make a graceful exit without completely ruining their credit,” Gagliardi said.

He noted that the agency has assisted thousands of property owners over the past eight years, and although the worst of the crisis has passed, over the past year, it helped 85 homeowners. “Thirty-five managed to preserve their homes, 25 were successful loan modifications, eight were able to bring their mortgage current, and two refinanced into more sustainable mortgages,” he continued, adding that another 43 were referred to legal assistance, and only two lost their homes.

Over the years, HAP also became involved in developing affordable housing and managing rental properties. Today, it has its own management company that oversees 700 units in towns and cities including Amherst, Hadley, Southwick, Southampton, Easthampton, Northampton, Charlton, Ware, Wales, Springfield, and Holyoke. It has also built and renovated properties, and has 10 projects underway, including construction of a $19.9 million, four-story, mixed-use building on Pleasant Street in Northampton that will have 2,600 square feet of retail space on its first floor and 27 studio apartments and 43 one-bedroom units in its upper stories.

“We also played a leadership role in creating the Western Mass. Nonprofit Housing Developers Group 20 years ago, and partnered with Nueva Esperanza in Holyoke and another organization to restore a number of four-story apartment buildings in South Holyoke,” Gagliardi said, as he recounted decades of work in Hampden and Hampshire counties.

Growing Enterprise

The mission of Way Finders continues to expand, and Gagliardi said its new name belongs to the next generation of leaders.

“We found that the best way to create affordable housing and revitalize a neighborhood is to collaborate, and in several situations organizations have become our affiliates,” he noted, explaining that news of the name change was accompanied by an announcement that Way Finders is forming strategic partnerships with Common Capital Inc. of Holyoke and MBL Housing and Development LLC of Amherst that will allow the parties to develop and finance projects that will benefit area residents, businesses, and communities.

Common Capital provides small loans to help businesses, while MBL Housing consults with developers interested in building affordable housing. That group was in danger of closing because the owner wanted to retire, but Way Finders found a way to allow it to stay in business.

“We know that no organization can do everything, but we have played a leadership role, and collaboration has always been important to us,” Gagliardi said. “Stable housing is a starting point, not an end point, and we have seen many former voucher holders move into new homes.”

So, although the sign in front of its Springfield office reads “Way Finders Housing Center,” the hope is that this rebranding will attract people in a variety of situations who need help finding a path to a better life.

Nonprofit Management Sections
Nonprofit Managers Face a Host of New Questions — and Challenges

Sarah Tsitso at the new outdoor play area at the Boys & Girls Club Family Center in Springfield.

Sarah Tsitso at the new outdoor play area at the Boys & Girls Club Family Center in Springfield.

Sarah Tsitso has been spending a lot of her recent spare time on eBay, looking for 1920s garb.
She needs a dress and some accessories for a Nov. 17 fund-raiser at the Museum of Springfield History that she has created for the Boys & Girls Club Family Center, which she serves as executive director. It’s called ‘Jazz Fantasia,’ billed as an opportunity to experience the so-called Harlem Renaissance (which Tsitso has studied extensively) with jazz music, dinner, and both live and silent auctions.
“It’s something really different — which you definitely need these days,” said Tsitso, adding that, when it comes to raising funds for the family center (or any nonprofit, for that matter), a large dose of imagination and a willingness to look well beyond the traditional golf tournament or the usual event venues are certainly necessary.
And that’s just one of the many ways in which the lives of nonprofit managers have changed in recent years, she told BusinessWest. New challenges range from heightened competition for available funds to a need for far greater accountability when it comes to how funds are expended; from a critical need to create partnerships and collaborations with a host of constituencies to simply securing the operational funding to keep the lights on.
“The new buzzword is ‘measurable outcomes,’” she said, adding that most all donors are seeking (or demanding) them these days.
Kirk Smith, executive director of the YMCA of Greater Springfield, agreed, and used the phrase “new questions” to describe what nonprofit managers are facing these days, adding quickly that, to succeed, they need thoughtful, specific, and effective answers.
“Before, you could put together a good mission statement, and people would give you money based on just that — but those days are long gone,” he explained. “Now, what they want to know is your track record — how have you demonstrated that what you’re doing is effective?
Kirk Smith

In this new environment for nonprofits, Kirk Smith says, organizations and their leaders must do many things well, but above all else, they must be able to effectively communicate.

“They want to know how efficient you are, how strong your organization is, and who it’s collaborating with,” he continued. “And then, there’s the bigger question, which comes in two parts: ‘how are you going to use my support to leverage further support?’ and ‘when that funding runs out, what’s next? How sustainable is that program or initiative?’”
These are questions that nonprofits are not used to answering and didn’t have to answer until maybe a decade or so ago, he continued, adding that, overall, this responsibility is a good thing for all parties involved, because greater accountability helps an organization stay on mission, and statistical evidence of success is far more effective than anecdotal evidence when it comes to gaining additional support.
To succeed in this changed environment, organizations and their leaders must do many things well, said Smith, adding that, above all else, they must be able to effectively communicate. And there is much that goes into this, he went on, adding that it means everything from relaying an organization’s mission to conveying how well it is meeting stated goals, to sustaining a dialogue with funders about what they see as priorities and would like to accomplish.
“Today, it’s not about asking for money, but asking for a conversation,” he said. “Donors are not just people who give you money; you have to understand them and tap into what’s important to them, not what’s important to you.”
Summing it all up, Dora Robinson, executive director of the United Way of Pioneer Valley, said today’s nonprofit managers must wear many hats, and, in a word, be “generalists.” Elaborating, she said, while they still must be devoted to the mission — that part won’t change — they must also develop new programs, be well-versed in financial matters, be effective managers of employers and groomers of talent, and, overall, be visionaries.
“People have to manage from soup to nuts,” she explained, “ and it’s a real challenge keeping all those balls in the air while at the same time looking for new opportunities. Now, you have to be a solid fiscal manager; the new leadership requirements for nonprofits are to not only be a good friend- and fund-raiser, but also a good manager.”
The phrase ‘operate like a business’ is overused and somewhat of a cliché when it comes to nonprofit management, said Andrew Morehouse, executive director of the Food bank of Western Massachusetts, but it’s quite accurate.
A recent graduate of the MBA program at the Isenberg School of Management, Morehouse said nonprofit managers today must be adept in everything from strategic planning to teamwork building to Stephen Covey’s famous seven habits.
For this issue and its focus on nonprofit management, BusinessWest talked with several administrators about the changed — and still changing — landscape, and what it means for their organizations.

Exercise in Creativity
As she talked with BusinessWest about her organization — which traces its roots back to 1899, when it was a settlement house in Springfield’s North End — and the many challenges involved with nonprofit management, Tsitso took a break for a tour that helped her get several points across.

To be successful today, Dora Robinson says, nonprofit managers must be “generalists.”

To be successful today, Dora Robinson says, nonprofit managers must be “generalists.”

She stopped in what she called the “library in progress” to talk about partnerships — in this case, one with the organization Link to Libraries, which has helped the family center stock its shelves and put books in the hands of children who don’t have many, if any, at home.
She pointed out the large kitchen, and, while doing so, talked about how the center doesn’t just feed children, but engages in educational programs about proper nutrition — a reflection of changing times, heightened awareness about the problem of childhood obesity, and a broader mission. And while traversing the hallways, she mentioned her desire for a capital campaign aimed at expanding the nearly 50-year-old Acorn Street facilities.
The highlight, though, was a new outdoor play center that was almost ready for prime time. An addition to the offerings at the family center, the facility was created in response to several recognized needs and goals — especially a desire to provide outdoor recreation to children who have limited access to both playground equipment and fresh air.
“My daughter goes to Springfield public schools, so I know first-hand how little time they get outside,” Tsitso noted. “Recess is nothing — if they get it at all, it’s 10 minutes, and there’s very little playground equipment. And most of the children in this neighborhood live in apartments, and oftentimes, it’s not safe to walk around.”
So she applied for a grant through the Boston-based Amelia Peabody Foundation to build a playground, and she admits that this was somewhat of a hard sell.
“It was a tough one, because they don’t typically fund playgrounds, and they weren’t interested in funding this one,” she recalled. “But the pitch I made to them was about childhood obesity and diabetes, and the fact that we need to provide opportunities to keep children active in any way we can. I convinced them that this was important.”
Together, Tsitso’s commitment to creating an outdoor play area and her success in securing the funds to get it done reflect many of the challenges facing nonprofit managers today — everything from the need to be creative and persistent in the pursuit of funds to fully knowing and understanding what drives those who eventually open their checkbooks.
“Years ago, many of the managers of nonprofits were former corporate executives,” said Tsitso as she attempted to sum up the new environment. “They would go to their corporate contacts and very passionately pitch the cause … and people would just start writing checks.
“It worked — for that time and that purpose — but it doesn’t work anymore,” she continued. “I can’t just waltz into MassMutual and ask them to cut me a check for a $1 million. That’s not going to work; I wish it would, but it won’t. You really need to spend time and steward donors and figure out how your mission and what you’re trying to accomplish falls in with that corporation and the goals that they’ve set for themselves.
“It’s all about finding that symmetry between nonprofit and business,” she went on. “What businesses really want to support at-risk youth in our community? Some are very interested in the arts, some are into cancer research; you have to find the right match for you.”
Using different words and phrases, Smith said essentially the same thing, putting heavy stress on the need for nonprofits large and small to be accountable, while also providing something else for donors: bang for their buck.
“Donors want to understand how their support is making an impact,” he told BusinessWest, adding that, to help in this process, nonprofits must provide more quantitative (rather than qualitative) evidence than ever before, meaning those measurable outcomes. “Accountability is much greater — there’s no more ‘here’s $10,000, go help some kids.’ The conversations have to be at a much higher level than that, and I think that’s appropriate.
“Charitable giving is up in America,” he continued. “But it’s more competitive in terms of fund-raising, and you need to be prepared to be held accountable, moreso than you did in the past.”

By the Numbers
As an example, he pointed to the Y-AIM Program, which matches at-risk teenagers with mentors, with the goal of keeping them in school and seeing them through to graduation. The initiative was created with the initial support of Big Y, and First Niagara and Health New England have been more recent backers, said Smith, noting that all those involved have been looking for evidence that it’s working.
“People need to see some specific numbers,” he said, adding that, with Y-AIM, there are some.
“This program is about addressing at-risk high-school students who have very low GPAs, are repeaters, and have low attendance and behavior problems,” Smith explained. “We started at Sci-Tech [the High School of Science and Technology] with 40 kids, and we graduated 39 of them; 36 went to college, one went into the military, and one went into the Job Corps.”
With those numbers in hand, program administrators have been able to gain the attention and support of other donors, said Smith, adding that Y-AIM has expended from one school to three and now four. “If we weren’t able to demonstrate success and track the data, we wouldn’t be where we are now.”
But quantifying results is often difficult for smaller nonprofits, said Tsitso, and especially with her organization, where the goal is often prevention.
“It’s harder to measure the ‘don’ts’ than the ‘dos,’” she explained. “Our outcomes are really non-outcomes; we start with a child who’s 6 or 7 years old, and through the services we provide, they don’t get pregnant at 14, they don’t join a gang, they don’t drop out of high school, they don’t engage in risky behavior, and they don’t end up in jail.
“We can measure our children, but it’s a long-term measurement,” she continued. “We’re talking about a 6- or 7-year-old; let’s see where they are at 20. It’s not something we can measure on a one-year grant cycle.”
Beyond this dilemma, however, the advent of greater accountability has brought other challenges for nonprofits, said Robinson. Elaborating, she said that, in this changed environment and its greater emphasis on programming and measurable outcomes — what she called “moving the needle” — basic operating costs often get overlooked.
“One of the big questions today for organizations like the United Way is, how do we keep the infrastructure in place to really support and promote our mission and our work?” she explained. “You need to have an administrative infrastructure in order to do the kind of work that needs to be done in communities — so who pays for that?”
This challenge is compounded by unfunded mandates at both the state and federal level, she said, as well as by new reporting requirements dictating that work be done electronically, which constitutes a major burden for many smaller agencies.
“Some can’t meet these costs,” she told BusinessWest, “and while some can, often they do it at the expense of direct services.”
And this brings her back to that notion about nonprofit managers being generalists and keeping a large number of balls in the air at the same time, especially when so much emphasis is on programs and quantifying the results they’re generating.
“The funders want to provide funds for the programs, but not necessarily the operations,” she explained. “And that makes it almost impossible for some nonprofits; those organizations then have the additional burden of doing fund-raising. Not only are they trying to manage and bring in resources through contracts from state and federal foundations, they now have to do fund-raising to cover the gaps.”
Meanwhile, they have to be able to attract and effectively manage talent and get a team to move in the same direction, she went on, adding that, for many, this requires additional education, such as an MBA, or work in college programs specifically tailored for nonprofit managers (see related story, page 22).

Getting the Mission Accomplished
While acknowledging that some things have indeed changed for nonprofits, Morehouse said many aspects of effective management in this realm have simply been “rediscovered.”
At the top of that list, he told BusinessWest, is that all-important element of trust, and the need to establish and maintain it with all constituencies, including the many different funders of the organization, from corporations, individuals, and foundations to state and federal government.
“There are certain basic elements of humanity that make social enterprises work, whether be it a for-profit business or a nonprofit business,” he explained. “We’re social enterprises where human beings have to interact to create a product or service to get it out the door — and trust is a very important element.
“Employees want to be able to trust one another; partners in a business relationship want to be able to trust one another,” Morehouse continued. “And when you have that trust, respect, and fairness in a relationship, you can create a lot more productivity, whether it be producing a good or providing a service, because people want to do it; they feel good about it and they’ll go the extra mile, not just because they believe in a mission, but because they believe in their peers and their partners.”
Another element that has in many ways been rediscovered, or re-emphasized, he went on, is the need to create and strengthen relationships and partnerships at all levels.
These include the organization’s board, donors, the communities being served, other nonprofits, and especially the internal partners — emergency providers (pantries) that distribute the food to clients. Such relationships help stretch available funding, he explained, while also enabling organizations to take their missions in new directions and become something else that nonprofits must be in this day and age: nimble.
“One of the efforts that we’re undertaking for the next few years is to work with our network of emergency providers to create efficiencies through better collaboration and cooperation, and some of that will result in reducing duplication of effort,” Morehouse said.
Tsitso echoed those comments, noting that the family center has successfully forged partnerships with groups ranging from Link to Libraries to Rick’s Place (which counsels children who are grieving lost parents) to Girl Scouts of America (there’s now a troop at the center) to broaden its mission and better meet it.
“These partnerships are allowing us to do a lot more with less,” she explained. “They allow us to offer far more than homework help and free gym time; we can really put together a slate of programs that kids enjoy.
“Because these other organizations are willing to work together with us, we’re able to expand our reach, expand our visibility, partner on some grants, and share important information, because we’re serving basically the same population.”
This talk of partnerships and collaboration brings Smith back to his comments about how nonprofits shouldn’t be asking for money these days, but instead asking for conversations. And these talks have changed, he went on, noting that, instead of asking how a corporation or foundation can help the Y, the Y is asking how it can help those entities reach their stated goals.
“First, we explain to them who we are, and detail the depth and breadth of our work,” he said, “and then we ask, ‘what do you want to see addressed in the community?’
“That’s the question we ask funders, whereas in the past, we would say, ‘we have a menu of programs — pick one.’ Now, it’s ‘what do you want to see addressed in the community?’” he continued. “‘Is it education, childhood obesity, teen pregnancy … what needs to be addressed?’ And then we ask them, ‘if we’re able to put something together consistent with meeting that need, will you fund it?’”

Changes of Note
For Jazz Fantasia, Tsitso and her staff at the family center will give the history museum the look and feel of the Roaring ’20s for an event that will be a decidedly different kind of fund-raiser.
For her and other nonprofit managers, though, there is no turning back the clock when it comes to what is expected — and demanded — of them, and the myriad challenges they face.
This is a different era, a time for those new questions, as Smith called them, and for terms such as accountability, measurable outcomes, partnerships, and collaboration.
And they will define the landscape for the foreseeable future.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Nonprofit Management Sections
Colleges Tout the Value of Degrees in Nonprofit Management

Melissa Morriss-Olson

Melissa Morriss-Olson says nonprofits increasingly recognize the need to be more business-savvy.

“No money, no mission.”

That’s a commonly heard saying in the Nonprofit Management and Philanthropy graduate program at Bay Path College, a catchphrase repeated by professors and absorbed by students, many of whom already work for nonprofit organizations.

“You have to be able to manage the bottom line to fund your mission,” said Melissa Morriss-Olson, a professor in the program and Bay Path’s provost and vice president for Academic Affairs. “If you lose sight of that, all the good you want to do is not going to happen. You can’t have one without the other.”

Nonprofit organizations face tough sledding these days — with the economy sluggish and societal needs on the rise, fund-raising and program implementation is more difficult than it used to be (see story, page 16), and nonprofits increasingly realize that to compete and thrive in this environment, they have to run like for-profit businesses. One way that trend manifests itself is a proliferation in college degree programs centered on nonprofit management.

“I had founded a similar program in Chicago, one of the first academic centers for nonprofit management in the country,” Morriss-Olson said. “At the time, there were maybe 30 graduate programs in that field, and now there are well over 100 — and more than 300 colleges offer some kind of course in nonprofit management.

“That increase reflects a growing awareness of the nonprofit sector,” she continued. “It used to be that you fell into a job in the nonprofit sector; now it’s a much more well-defined career path for people who want to work in the sector. It’s everywhere in our country; in this area alone, probably once a month, a new nonprofit is starting.”

Kathryn Carlson Heler, director of the Master of Business Administration (MBA) program at Springfield College, said such programs are attractive not only to executives and employees of nonprofits who want to advance their skills and improve their organizations, but young people and older career changers alike who are looking to launch new enterprises or take roles in established ones.

“It’s a wonderful time for people to get an education in the nonprofit world because there are so many upcoming openings in the field,” she noted. “So many of the executives are looking forward to retirement, and there’s no one behind them.”

That said, “I’ve found that a business background is a perfect background for people in the nonprofit realm, because a nonprofit is a business — a business with a mission — and having the knowledge and skills to run a business is so important.”

Bay Path and Springfield are two area schools that have created graduate programs in nonprofit management, launching their efforts in 2006 and 2010, respectively. In this issue, BusinessWest examines the different shades of such programs — and why nonprofits, and those who lead them, are starting to take notice.


Different Flavors

Bay Path actually offers two separate degree programs for nonprofit professionals and those who want to get into some aspect of that world.

“One is an MS in Nonprofit Management and Philanthropy, and one is an MS in Strategic Fundraising and Philanthropy,” Morriss-Olson said. “They are distinct, both in the type of student who enrolls and the careers that each leads to.

The MS in Nonprofit Management and Philanthropy, she noted, is geared toward those who see themselves in a management role, such as executive director, director of operations, or chief financial officer. “It gives you a really good foundation for understanding the unique management and operating context that nonprofits have.

“When I came here,” she explained, “rather than just taking the Chicago program and dumping it at Bay Path, we convened a group of about 30 nonprofit leaders in the region. We invited them to campus and discussed what they saw as the more critical leadership needs of their organizations. We took that and turned it into an advisory group, and the courses are a direct response to what those leaders told us.”

Class topics range from board governance to strategic management; from finances to law and policy matters.

“One of the biggest issues we heard is the need to know how to manage a double bottom line — being not only financially viable, but also effective in realizing the mission,” Morriss-Olson said. “In the business world, you just worry about the bottom line, but in the nonprofit world, that’s not enough. You need to be mission-driven but also smart from a financial perspective.”

That unique perspective, she explained, informs the foundation of all the courses offered. “That emphasis is the focus of every single course you take, so when you graduate, you really are schooled in management issues through the lens of that unique operating context.”

Bay Path’s other track in nonprofit education is an MS in Strategic Fundraising and Philanthropy, and it was developed after the first degree program after students began requesting more coursework in fund-raising,” she explained. The program certainly provides that, with classes in communication and relationships, donor behavior, grant writing and foundation relations, capital campaigns, planned giving, and more. “Fund-raising and getting revenue is so critical for these organizations, and they want to know as much about it as they can.”

Springfield College included Nonprofit Management as a concentration in its MBA program launched just two years ago. The track is attractive to people eyeing opportunities in health care, recreation, youth, the arts, sports, and as fund-development officers, to name just a few possible career paths.

In creating a two-pronged MBA program, “we looked at what areas would be common between a for-profit business and a nonprofit, and we have a number of courses that both types of students take,” Carlson Heler said. “Those include courses on entrepreneurship, financial management, accounting, economics, and marketing. And then there are a couple of areas that are very specific to nonprofits; one is fund-raising and philanthropy, and another is governance of an organization, so we developed courses that focus on those.”

The overlap is natural, she said, at a time when nonprofits need to become more bottom-line-driven to survive.

“Foundations and corporations that donate are beginning to say, ‘we want the nonprofits who receive our money to be run like a business; we don’t want our money to be wasted,’” she noted.

Citing the research of Dennis Young of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Carlson Heler noted that there are two different classes of nonprofits. One comprises bodies that come together to meet an immediate need over a finite period of time; the groups that responded to Springfield’s tornado destruction last year are a good example.

“Then there’s the nonprofit that’s a real business. They need all those business skills because they’re competing not only for dollars, but also for customers.”

Even colleges that don’t specifically offer nonprofit management degrees recognize the overlap. David Stawacz, assistant vice president for Marketing and External Affairs at Western New England University, said MBA programs in general are valued in the nonprofit world.

“It’s the most recognized degree,” he said. “The skills you pick up in an MBA are readily transferable to running a nonprofit — strategic planning, qualitative analysis, leadership, finance, marketing, even organizational behavior. It’s not the same as running a for-profit business and going to shareholders, but you still need to have all those pieces of the puzzle in place.”

WNEU has seen the interests of the business and nonprofit communities interlock in other ways, too, including its eight-week Leadership Institute offered from February through April each year in conjunction with the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield.

“A lot of our MBA faculty teach the workshop. Once a week, people take one afternoon off a week and go downtown and focus on leadership and strategic thinking,” Stawacz said. “It’s open to all, and it was geared in the beginning toward business, but a lot of nonprofit organizations found it valuable, and it has grown quite popular with some of the nonprofits.

“It has a lot of the same principles behind an MBA, but in a much shorter time, with a much broader view of things,” he added. “In eight weeks, you can only accomplish so much, but there are definitely a lot of skills you can take back to a business or nonprofit. It also helps with networking opportunities between the nonprofit world and the business world.”


Moving On Up

Morriss-Olson said many nonprofit employees see a degree in philanthropy studies as a sort of career ladder.

“We get a lot of people, in both degrees, who have worked their way up, then got to the point where they realized they needed a graduate degree to jump to the next level. And we have executives who may not need the degree, but want to add to their experience,” she said, adding that they’re finding it to be a worthwhile endeavor.

“They tell me, ‘finally I’ve got a vocabulary to help me understand the work I’ve been doing all these years.’ The coursework has helped them frame their own experiences in a way they find very helpful.”

It also helps them develop new strategies for dealing with the myriad demands placed on nonprofits today.

For many just entering the field, she said, “what surprises them is how much time and attention they have to spend managing constituencies, whether it’s community leaders, board volunteers, donors, client families — it goes on and on. We have a course in the curriculum on board governance and volunteer management; it focuses on how to recruit and then effectively manage a board, but also how to effectively deal with the volunteers who will help you with your mission.”

But it’s not only established professionals who are signing up for the degree. “A number of our students want to start nonprofit organizations, and they’ve found that enrolling in this program is a great way to get help doing that,” she continued. “One of the wonderful things about our country is, if you have an interest and want to do some good, it’s very easy to get together and get state and federal recognition for your cause,” she said.

In either case, Morriss-Olson said, it helps that many courses are taught by actual nonprofit executives who bring real-world experience to the classroom. “That’s helping us marry theory to practice.”

Carlson Heler said enrollment in the nonprofit side of Springfield College’s MBA program is low, but growing steadily. “As I go around and talk about it, more and more individuals are interested in the degree and see its worth,” she said, adding, however, that efforts to boost the numbers encounter two problems.

“One is that the nonprofit world has, in the past, relied heavily on workshops and conferences to pass along the knowledge that is needed to run a nonprofit,” she explained, “and people have the attitude of, ‘well, I can just go to a workshop on how to do an audit, or a workshop on how to market my program,’ instead of thinking, ‘hey, how about a degree?’

“The second thing,” she continued, “is that it costs money to get a graduate degree. It can be expensive, and a lot of nonprofits do not have the funds to send their people back to school.”

She hopes that’s changing. “I have a wonderful student out of Connecticut who is an executive director; her board is paying her whole way because they do see the benefit.”

As those benefits become more apparent, expect enrollment to rise — not only locally, but across the country. After all, knowledge is power, and nonprofit organizations fighting for every dollar can never have too much of that.


Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]