You’ve heard of “the Hunger Games”? Unfortunately that’s the environment for local 501(c)(3)s serving underprivileged youth and families. But the ones who suffer the most are the individuals depending on nonprofit services to learn, earn, and thrive – Their difficulties are growing. So, starting in 2017, in Sacramento, California, a group of nonprofits got together to change the game.
There is only so much funding to go around and small nonprofits, each operating in its own silo, compete against one another, over and over again, for barely-sufficient resources.
65 percent of the charitable nonprofits in Sacramento County have annual revenue under $100,000. That means most of them employ only one or two individuals. These workers are obviously passionate about community service and have expertise in counseling youth or serving communities. But half their time is diverted to the compliance paperwork and grant applications required for running a 501(c)(3).
Even nonprofits employing a dozen or more workers are unnecessarily impeded with “back-office” work like payroll, HR, tax compliance, and IT issues. And fund development. Just applying for grants and meeting reporting requirements is half the job as well.
Meanwhile, nonprofits struggle to confront the long-entrenched causes of poverty, truancy, drug and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy, and violence. From 2007 to 2017, these negative trends grew across the board.
Nonprofits understand we must collaborate with one another to address the full spectrum of root causes.
But, stretched as we are, there are barely sufficient resources to complete the tasks right in front of us, much less make time to build a meaningful infrastructure for collaboration and evaluation.
So, in 2017, conversations started to converge on the idea of working together more meaningfully to start breaking barriers.
Let’s cure the cause
Nonprofits in the six-county Sacramento region are looking to make fundamental changes to the way business is done in the social impact sector. We want to make measurable progress on curing the cause – and not just treating the symptoms – of negative trends like poverty, violent crime, substance abuse, high school drop-out rates, and poor health outcomes.
We want to empower youth and families in low-opportunity communities fundamentally.
So, in early 2017, the Executive Director of PRO Youth & Families, Staci Anderson, started driving these conversations toward an articulated vision and concrete steps nonprofits could take to continue refining that vision. Impact Foundry and LPC Consulting Associates, Inc. stepped in with research and data to inform those conversations and clarify our options. Powerminds, Inc. brought expertise with change management and analysis.
This research and analysis, combined with decades of cumulative experience among dozens of nonprofits, indicated the key to healing the causes of negative impacts in communities is systematic collaboration between service providers – a more seamless range of services to move young people forward to a place of empowerment.
By Spring 2017, nonprofits chose to create a single collective that could:
- align complementary programs of different nonprofits in order to create a single continuum of services, and
- consolidate and streamline the administrative work and fund development that too often diverts staff and resources at smaller nonprofits.
This would allow a comprehensive wraparound approach to treating the whole person – and equip nonprofits to spend more of their time and expertise on collaboration and evaluation of services’ effectiveness.
Crafting a vision
In July 2017, the executive directors of 17 nonprofits (and 2 for-profits) completed a survey indicating their priorities, hopes, and insights for the collective. The survey showed nonprofits wanted to collaborate most to support each other’s fund development, marketing efforts, and facilities and operations.
Fund development: The “Hunger Games” scenario diverts nonprofits’ precious staff time to writing proposals and reports instead of serving the community, and it bogs funders down in reviewing dozens and dozens of identical-looking proposals, each trying to carve-out its own small chunk of limited funds.
Seventeen nonprofits said: What if a single collective could consolidate fund development so that nonprofits can focus their time and energy on their mission, and funders could have a single source of reporting – including uniform metrics to measure the effectiveness of funds (i.e., no more “Hunger Games”).
Marketing: Small nonprofits are stretched between serving overwhelming community needs and scrambling to keep the lights on. Who has time to market the vital roles nonprofits play in the community?
Seventeen nonprofits said: What if a single collective could be our voice in the public square, with the media, with government officials, with key decisionmakers. Staci Anderson recruited the premier consulting firm Elevate Public Affairs, to be that voice – A new pro bono partnership with the collective to ensure the nonprofits’ stories and priorities are being effectively communicated to the right audience.
Facilities and operations: Speaking of scrambling to keep the lights on, small nonprofits serving impoverished youth and families are mired in administrative and compliance work like IRS filings, payroll and HR, IT, paying the rent – and other back-office work that large organizations hire separate staff for.
Seventeen nonprofits said: What if a single collective could more efficiently take these distractions off our desk and allow us to devote our expertise to our mission.
The collective is now being built around these survey priorities.
Later that Summer, all 17 nonprofits signed a Letter of Intent to join the new collective, now called the Youth & Family Collective (YFC). The executive directors of every nonprofit had earned the approval of their boards to join the movement, and private-sector companies had committed their services to support it.
In the months to follow, 11 additional entities joined Impact Foundry, LPC Consulting, and Elevate in donating services and their platform toward further developing YFC. This included seed funding from the City of Sacramento, web design and strategy from OpenThink Technology, and quantitative research and management consulting from Deloitte.
By the end of 2017, 19 nonprofits had signed a Letter of Intent to join YFC.
In January 2018, YFC convened a summit of nonprofit executives, board members, government officials, business executives, technologists, and funders from across the six-county region – to exchange insights and input on YFC’s path forward.
“Government can’t do it alone,” said Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna. “When great organizations come together, like the Youth & Family Collective, we can all do a better job of serving the community.”
The summit was called our “Call to Action” because it celebrated the commitments these organizations have made to each other’s success, and called upon one another – and the broader community – to achieve a very specific goal:
Keep growing YFC until it is entirely financially self-sustaining by the year 2020. By January 2020, YFC will be in a position to continue serving dozens of nonprofits while sustaining itself through a mix of contracted services, grants, social enterprise, and philanthropy. This goal set the stage for the next two years of YFC’s work: Build capacity.
Key stakeholders heard the call, including public-sector and private-sector organizations united in the campaign to develop YFC to a stage of self-sustainability. Align Capital Region, Delfino Madden, First 5 Sacramento, Nehemiah Community Foundation, Up To Good, and McGeorge School of Law – all stepped up to provide pro bono services, each contributing its unique resources to YFC’s campaign.
The Kaiser Foundation heard the call - stepping up in Summer 2018 to fund the first 12 months of YFC’s campaign to build capacity. This includes:
- Designing an organizational infrastructure that ensures continued support and participation among nonprofits and other civic institutions going forward
- Creating an administrative structure that effectively provides services to nonprofits, including operations (payroll, HR, etc.), marketing, fund development, policy, and volunteer programs
- Developing and reinforcing a cooperative network of the nonprofits participating in YFC in order to create successful cross-sector partnerships that foster:
- Breakthrough community solutions to root causes of negative outcomes
- Sustainable pipelines for a diverse workforce and next-generation leaders
- An ability to track, compile, assess, and report actionable data on the cumulative efficacy of dozens of nonprofits’ programs
- A documented model solution that can be replicated locally, statewide, and nationally
The Kaiser Foundation’s heroic support is a strong start, but additional needs have been identified to continue YFC’s capacity-building campaign.
Two of our YFC partners are investing their expertise and resources specifically to build the collective infrastructure:
- Align Capital Region is taking YFC through a formal alignment process designed to integrate different nonprofits’ resources to achieve greater outcomes for community vitality.
- Deloitte is consolidating and analyzing data across all organizations to help identify how organizations can share services and better work together. Most fundamentally, Deloitte has started with the discovery that many nonprofits use metrics and data systems that are entirely incompatible with (and unintelligible to) each other, even when working in adjacent complementary fields. Delioitte’s first task is developing and testing approaches to standardizing data – so that everyone’s speaking the same language first.
Building on the work with Align and Deloitte and using the Systems-Based Approach, YFC is engaging in four phases of work to bring this collective to scale by the year 2020:
- Design: Map the System (Collective) Together (July-December 2018)
- Develop: Organize Teams and Strategic Planning (October 2018-October 2019)
- Operationalize: Cultivate and Collaborative Learning (March 2019-October 2019)
- Deploy: Network Implementation (March 2019-July 2020)
Our continued success depends upon the spirit of partnership and collaboration so generously demonstrated by our partners and members so far. We encourage all readers to consider how they can support YFC’s ongoing development through a grant award or other funding opportunity.
Thank you for reading!