Excellence is the Best Strategy

Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Many of New York’s nonprofit groups are excited about receptive ears in a de Blasio administration that campaigned on promises of a more equitable city, but they’re also anxious about losing a mayor who shared his management expertise as well as his wealth with nonprofits.
How can these groups adjust to a new era that might be complicated by a budget gap of as much as $2 billion? One way to nonprofit success, we believe, is stronger innovative management by nonprofits themselves.
Three nonprofits serving children, job-seekers and the hungry and homeless received the New York Community Trust-New York Magazine Nonprofit Excellence Awards for creative management strategies.
All three have figured out how to deliver better results while using limited money wisely — and even saving money.  Many of their lessons can be useful to the city’s other 27,000 nonprofits as well as thousands of others in the suburbs. Here are a few lessons from each of the winning organizations:
Children’s Village
Children’s Village, in New York City, Long Island and Westchester, has run the largest residential program for vulnerable kids in New York State for over 100 years.  Yet when evidence began to show that children do better when helped at home, Children’s Village changed its model to serving kids and their families where they live. It was a good move. Last year, 94 percent of teens in the Children’s Village Preventive Program who were at risk of removal from their homes remained at home. That’s better for the children, and for taxpayers. Preventive care costs $8,000 per child, compared to $130,000 for residential treatment.
Children’s Village impressed us with its management style: It encourages promotion from within, with all internal applicants getting an interview and feedback. It grooms junior staff for leadership. It invests in extensive training and offers scholarships for advanced studies. The CEO hosts one-on-one lunches with staff members, and recognizes excellence through an internal awards program.
All this led to a significant reduction in turnover, lowering the cost of hiring and training.
BronxWorks helps people in need, from senior citizens to foster children. It uses data to track a program’s impact on a community — such as housing programs that led to a 72 percent reduction of homeless people on Bronx streets since 2005. A borough-wide survey funded by The New York Community Trust showed BronxWorks that poor residents want better access to fresh fruits and vegetables. In response, the staff trained elderly and youth volunteers to manage a farmers market, plant community gardens, host cooking classes and sell fresh produce.
The group studies demographics to keep up with the rapid diversification of the Bronx and meet the needs of the growing South Asian, West African and Caribbean immigrant communities. One finding: Residents of senior centers are more likely to attend meals when staff take into account the cultural preferences when choosing foods.
BronxWorks’ commitment to successful outcomes goes back nearly two decades, when it connected low-income households to health insurance. The dedication paid off with a $2.5 million New York State grant to help residents find health coverage under the new Affordable Care Act.
To reduce homelessness, CSH (formerly known as Corporation for Supportive Housing) works with agencies specializing in veterans’ affairs, child welfare and the mentally ill to create affordable housing.
Based in Manhattan, CSH is a nationwide group that connects developers to communities, offering loans to get housing projects off the ground. Its projects also provide residents with counseling for addiction, and training for jobs.
In 2002, CSH studied data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and came up with a 10-year goal of creating 150,000 apartment units for the homeless across the country. CSH showed its agility with a project in San Francisco, which had an urgent need for affordable housing. When that work was ahead of schedule, managers were able to move staff and savings to another city and start work there. Not only did CSH meet its national goal, but it finished a year early.
CSH also developed its own method of scoring communities to assign staff based on the population of homeless and the city’s capacity for industry. It used this system to create housing in Arizona, Texas and Florida.
What can these three very different groups teach us about management? Plenty. They focus on measurable outcomes, use data thoughtfully to make decisions that improve results for clients, and strategically invest in staff.
In an era that will likely have tighter budgets for the city’s social service agencies and many of the region’s 40,000 nonprofits, the Excellence Award winners provide valuable examples. Even in tough times — especially in tough times — top-notch management practices allow the best-run organizations to help more New Yorkers.
This piece was published in the New York Nonprofit Press on November 26, 2013 and is reprinted with permission.
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