Can four Kalamazoo-area nonprofits working together improve services to those they assist?

Four nonprofits in Kalamazoo have long been working to help individuals and families in crisis.

But they say that most of their actual work is tied up in writing grants, courting donors, and struggling to hire and keep quality employees who're tempted to leave the typically low-wage nonprofit sector for better pay. 

Now, with the help of a three-year, $8.3 million grant from the Stryker Johnston Foundation, the four have joined forces as Hub ONE, a collaborative effort to put more work into helping people.

Two years ago Luke Kujacznski (Urban Alliance executive director), Danielle Sielatycki (Prevention Works CEO), Matt Lynn (Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kalamazoo chief professional officer) and Amy Kuchta (Big Brothers Big Sisters CEO) recognized that they all had the same administration problems. 

Also, they were in competition for resources, when they should be working together. 

Kujacznski says they reached the point of, "Are we going to just keep talking about it, or are we going to do something?" 

As a result, the four have been building the Hub ONE framework over the past two years, Sielatycki says. "During that time we met with several funders and partners to see if there was alignment from funders around this work." And Stryker Johnston became their main funder. They also have partnered with Old National Bank; "Hub ONE will be the 2021 recipient of their fundraising event, 100 Men Who Cook," she says.

Hub ONE isn't a merger, the four point out. It's a collaboration. "It's more for the planning side of things, the support side of things. It's going to be embedded in pieces of all our organizations because that's what it's going to take to really support our families," Kujacznski says.

They hope to eventually have a central location, with shared staff.

Big Brother Big Sisters' Kuchta says, "I think the intent is for us to have some shared space, to ensure that the collaboration continues to move smoothly. There will be some staff as part of the Hub ONE infrastructure, so I assume we'll be co-located with them. We've not quite identified the site or location yet, but that is the plan."

Getting beyond a scarcity mindset

"At the heart of it was the desire to see the sector move into a more-effective model to getting the work done," Kujacznski says. 

He says they asked themselves, "What does it look like if we really worked together, like we share things, we share data, we share information? Again, we started to walk through that and realized we're missing huge opportunities.... The people that we said we were in this work to serve, we were completely missing."

They knew they all were working with the same struggling population, and they could work better together, yet in many ways, the nonprofits were in competition.

"Why is that? What's at the root of that? And it's a scarcity mindset, where everybody is grabbing at resources and building their own organizations. Fear is a piece of it," he says.

This leads to "general lack of time and space to really step back and coordinate those efforts, because we're all running short-staffed all the time, under-resourced all the time, and so we can only focus on our little pocket of the population that we're serving instead of stepping back and asking, what's a holistic approach to this," Kujacznski says.

Sielatycki adds, "One of the biggest impacts on the work that all of us do is staff turnover and pay. The nonprofit sector is the second- or third-largest workforce in America, and yet so far behind in terms of pay equity, so the turnover rate for the average nonprofit employee is every two years."
Together at Prevention works.
When workers are "touching the lives and walking alongside of people, and the worker changes in under two years, it's hard to make the impact that we need. And it's hard on the organization because we're constantly on-boarding and hiring and trying to retain and retrain. It impacts all the lives that we can impact. So that will really change for us. We'll be able to pay the talent what they deserve, and that will in turn impact people with services that they deserve," Sielatycki says.

Kalamazoo is a generous town, but nonprofit organizations fight for a limited supply of grants to pay their staff. Sometimes one nonprofit is able to pay a bit better, so it's common that staff jump ship from one of the four to another, they say.

Kujacznski says, "We're kind of pitted against each other in the sector. Going after grants -- they use terminology like 'this is a competitive route.' Like, these are all organizations that deserve funding, all causes, and yet we exist in a world that we're made to believe exists to be one of a limited amount of resources, and we're fighting for those resources. So that's at the root of that scarcity language." 

He adds, "And we just need to start operating like there's enough for everybody."

Navigation

Boys & Girls Clubs' Lynn says Kalamazoo has, "close to 60%, six out of every ten households, that exist in a place of being financially unstable, and existing in the throes of everything that incorporates poverty. It takes a collective effort, not one organization as a magic bullet, to not only try to help people figure out how to navigate the system that's designed to help move them to prosperity, but how do we then also keep them engaged as a part of that system so that way they're getting the full benefit from all those support services."

Lynn, for example, might notice Boys & Girls Clubs youth who might need the health services of Prevention Works or a mentor from Big Brothers Big Sisters. 

"I might recognize, 'Oh, you got two or three other issues going on. You're about to lose your home, you're sporadic in employment, here are the other organizations, let me write down a phone number and give it to you. Call them.' That person may walk out the door, crumple that paper up and never talk to them because there isn't a relationship." 

The Momentum Program helps participants overcome obstacles to employment.As Hub ONE, they'll work more closely together, take steps that "includes the warm hand-off, that includes the personal connection that's there," Lynn says. If one is in need of other organization's services, "I'm going to bring you to their doorstep, and ensure that the services they're providing, you get connected to." 

One of the new staff positions, Kujacznski says, "will be navigator, whose sole function will be to coordinate the collaboration between all the organizations, so they'll be moving around from office to office, organization to organization, working with families." Navigators will also work to get families help with organizations outside of Hub ONE.

Human resources

Hub ONE will also have a shared human resources staff. 

In nonprofit organizations, Sielatycki says, HR is "probably the last thing that gets on the plate, unless you're a really large organization. So at our level of organizational size, you might have a part-time HR person, maybe if you're lucky, full-time, maybe an HR consultant. But what we really need is a full level HR director and team, because a lot of us have hundreds of employees. So a lot of our time is spent on HR-related issues, and staff aren't developed and taken care of the right way."

Kuchta says, "There's going to be assistance with negotiating contracts, procurement, best practices, making sure we're leveraging the size of our organization to truly get the most cost savings and be as efficient and effective as possible, so money will go towards that as well."

They will work to make sure their employees get equitable pay, but it's always been easier to, say, ask for donations for Prevention Works healthy family programs, than for a pay raise for staff.

Lynn points out that when it comes to overhead and administrative costs, "if you go above 17-20% of what you're getting in grant funding or support from donors that goes into operations, you're spending way too much. And people start asking the question, why?"

He continues, "Well, you want to maximize dollars that go into programming, but you also want to be able to pay the people who are doing the work." Funding sources often send the message to nonprofits, "yes, we want to make sure you've got high-quality programming, high-effect in terms of the impact you're having, but don't pay your people enough to be able to keep them or compensate them." He says that the Hub ONE collaboration will work to better address this.

They certainly aren't in this business for the money.

Kujacznski says, "We should be trying to work ourselves out of a job, and getting the community healthy enough where we don't even need to exist, and we want to have that conversation." 

 

Read more articles by Mark Wedel.

Mark Wedel has been a freelance journalist in southwest Michigan since 1992. Since 2012 he's had the bike touring bug, and has pedaled solo through both Michigan peninsulas, in southern Louisiana, Pittsburgh to Washington D.C., and this past summer through Ontario to Manitoulin Island on the Canadian side of Lake Huron. "It's fun," he says. He's written a book on one ride, "Mule Skinner Blues." For more information, see www.markswedel.com.
Signup for Email Alerts