Over the past three years Support Center has supported the organizational and mission sustainability of over 200 nonprofit organizations through comprehensive consulting and coaching engagements, including organizational assessments, strategic plans, executive coaching, board development, and redesign efforts.
In that time, we have also supported more than 30 nonprofits through an executive transition and conducted over 250 professional development workshops — both open to the public and customized for specific nonprofit groups — designed to help new and emerging nonprofit leaders increase their own personal effectiveness as well as their organization’s overall effectiveness.
The following examples provide a window into our impact. Support Center is also engaged in a multi-year effort to understand the impact of our work through improved assessment efforts.
Central American Refugee Center
Through Support Center’s Organizational Navigator program, Central American Refugee Center’s (CARECEN) staff and board took the iCAT assessment, under- went priority setting and goal check-ins with Support Center Navigator Joan Malin, and developed processes that have been “instrumental in CARECEN’s expanded capacity and preparedness for our next 40 years.”
One primary focus for their internal capacity building was to provide staff leadership and skill building opportunities. Through the Organizational Navigator program, CARECEN staff had access to trainings and workshops for free that “have been invaluable in helping staff develop skills and be effective in their roles. Sometimes staff are not only new to the field, but new managers, and these trainings helped them get up to speed quickly.” This included participation in trainings led by Support Center Consultant, Rodney Fuller. Rodney’s material “connected” with CARECEN staff, and “left them excited to attend subsequent sessions because they felt like they would continue to learn.”
CARECEN had also set board development as a high priority. Following the recruitment of new board members, CARECEN enlisted Support Center to provide board development and training. The introduction of Marie Zieger, Support Center Affiliate Consultant, allowed for a more cohesive and effective board that was able to have challenging conversations. Marie acted as a “bridge” between Executive Director and board, and “in two short sessions, helped the board to understand their roles effectively, build relationships, and lay the groundwork for a strong board moving forward.”
Despite the pandemic and lingering effects, CARECEN was able to build their internal capacity. They recently secured a funding partner for a multi-year commitment and a promise to introduce the organization to additional funders. This funding commitment will allow them to further their mission of providing high quality legal assistance to immigrant communities in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Reflecting on Support Center’s partnership with CARECEN over the past 12 months, Elise spoke to the importance of being acknowledged as a distinct organization with unique growth opportunities. “Every nonprofit leader needs to know about Support Center. There are so many resources, but we don’t know where to find them. Support Center provides a plethora of information, understands our needs, and has services tailor-made to fit them.”
Badass Animal Rescue
Support Center began working with Badass BK in the fall of 2019 when co-founder Eva Armstrong reached out for support with the small board. Two of the organization’s co-founders had stepped back and the bulk of the responsibility for fundraising, event planning, volunteer management and financial oversight was falling largely on Eva and two other board members. Krista MacDonald, a long-time volunteer and dog rescuer, was serving as program director, and her role was not well defined. Despite its large and devoted cadre of volunteers, Badass BK was stuck – unsure how to proceed with building its staff and Board and how to take advantage of its upcoming 10th Anniversary to sustain and strengthen the organization.
Support Center affiliate consultant Ted Geier focused on building a strong foundation for the organization, starting with training on board and staff roles and responsibilities, recruitment, board structure, committees and meetings, fundraising, and the formation of an advisory board. He administered a board self-assessment to encourage the board to reflect on its own performance and role in the organization’s sustainability, reviewed the bylaws, and helped the board sketch out an achievable short term action plan. This led to Krista being appointed Executive Director, the current Board members reactivating, and the development of a 15-member 10th Anniversary Steering Committee chaired by a newly-engaged and highly effective volunteer.
The next stage of work in spring 2020 focused on helping the 10th Anniversary Steering Committee harness the significant energy of Badass BK’s volunteers, celebrate the many accomplishments of its first 10 years, and start building governance and fundraising capacity and a leadership team to shape the next decade. To build her leadership and management skills, Krista participated in Support Center’s New Executive Director Institute in June.
The Covid-19 pandemic helped raise the visibility of Badass BK. While it slowed down the adoption process, the demand for adoptable dogs skyrocketed and donations increased as well. Support Center will continue to work with the Anniversary Committee and the leadership team to bring on new board members and strengthen governance practices. Ted hopes that as a result of Support Center’s engagement, many more dogs will be rescued and adopted into loving families, and the amount of net kindness and goodwill in New York will proportionally increase as a result. “When we started, literally 200 active and engaged volunteers were running an organization with one staff member, no executive director, and only one productive board member. But, demonstrating the power of one, the one staff member and the one Board member are building an effective team that will positively affect the lives of thousands of people and their dogs! Working with Badass reminds me of what a joy it is to do this work.”
Westchester Community Foundation
In early 2021, Support Center launched a cohort-based strategy and planning program, in partnership with the Westchester Community Foundation, for small and medium-sized nonprofit arts organizations that wanted to refresh and reframe their strategic priorities amid Covid-related economic and cultural disruption. The program brought together EDs, staff, and board members from six organizations to form a “community of practice,” centered around five monthly virtual peer learning sessions and fortified by office hours where individual organizations could get feedback on their plans. Participants (below) included two public libraries that serve as arts hubs in their communities.
▪ ▪ ▪ Clay Art Center
▪ ▪ ▪ Hendrick Hudson Free Library
▪ ▪ ▪ Pelham Art Center
▪ ▪ ▪ Magic Box Productions, Inc.
▪ ▪ ▪ Mamaroneck Public Library
▪ ▪ ▪ The Picture House Regional Film Center
“While we always hope these kinds of programs have a significant impact on every participant, we know that’s unlikely. But when one nonprofit executive director writes not once but twice about how much the sessions helped her, I am beyond gratified,” shared Robin Melén, Program Officer at Westchester Community Foundation. Ultimately, every organization ended up with written work outlining their strategic direction, priorities, and desired outcomes over the next 3-5 years. Several drafted strategic plans for the first time in the history of their organization. Nelle Stokes, Executive Director of Magic Box Productions, Inc., said, “Thank you all so much for making this such a wonderful experience. The organization, program design and expertise was greatly appreciated. We listened, learned, and now can’t wait to share with our organization as we develop our plans moving forward.”
Center for Safety and Change
The Center for Safety and Change (CSC) was reeling from a government shutdown in early 2019, which had frozen the flow of federal funds to domestic violence shelters. Founded in 1979, the organization serves victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and other violent crimes in Rockland County, New York. It is the sole victims assistance agency in the county, with 65% of its funding coming through government contracts. However, CSC recognized that diversifying its funding was just one of the changes it needed to make.
Beginning in September 2019, Support Center affiliate consultant Marie Zieger guided the organization through their first-ever strategic planning process. That process surfaced potential models such as Rosie’s Place, a women’s shelter in Boston that accepts no government funding, as well as foundational discussions of CSC’s mission, vision and scope of programs. Planning got off to a strong start with a visioning session that involved 70 staff and board members, most of whom had never met one another. They dug into the vision and mission and had lively discussions about how deep and wide CSC should go, for instance, in addressing the root causes of violence and reaching out more intentionally to the immigrant community.
Support Center conducted an organization assessment, benchmarking research and stakeholder interviews in the fall of 2019, and the committee selected six key priority areas on which to focus its work. Then Covid-19 hit. While the organization easily could have chosen to “press pause” on this work in light of the pandemic, the leadership team found strategic planning even more critical. The committee determined that CSC’s adaptability is its key strength, and it remains important to lead from a hopeful perspective and take “thoughtful risks.”
While the pandemic will have a long term effect on the organization and the communities it serves, CSC resolved to draw on its past resiliency and look at the current environment, as bleak as it seems, as an opportunity to explore new ways of delivering services virtually and motivate the board around resource gathering. The ED and committee chair decided to “walk it back” and take the time to analyze the current portfolio of programs and services, while six working groups took a deeper dive into the six strategic priority areas. The board adopted the new plan in November 2020. The process gave Marie Zieger a different perspective on conducting strategic planning during a crisis. “While I would have advised against it in the past, this partnership offered an opportunity to leverage the synergies created between the board and staff to address crises in real time and generate valuable new thinking.”
Sustainable Westchester develops and implements programs to accelerate progress in clean energy adoption and other sustainable practices to achieve the New York State climate goals. The organization’s programs include New York’s first Community Choice Aggregation program, Westchester Power, which currently serves over 110,000 households and small businesses. In mid-April 2019, the board co-chairs of Sustainable Westchester, Laura Rossi and Nancy Seligson, reached out to Support Center about help with an executive search. At that time, the board intended to search for a new ED as part of an organizational restructuring due to rapid growth in the three preceding years. The initial restructuring plan called for the current ED to assume a novel staff position focused on strategy and a new ED to step in and lead the organization.
Support Center’s early discussions with board leadership about this approach highlighted the challenges of leadership transitions where the leader departing the ED role is retained and asked to report to the new leader taking on the ED role. Often the changing power dynamics create friction that can lead to dysfunction amongst the staff and destabilize the organization overall. The idea of hiring an Interim ED to lead the restructuring process and explore whether that shift in roles could be successful was suggested by Support Center, and the board ultimately pursued that option. The Interim ED position description was distributed to Support Center’s pool of trained, professional interim candidates in late May, and a number of strong candidates applied. The board narrowed the slate of candidates and invited a small number to interview, ultimately landing on their preferred candidate, Steve Rosenthal. Steve had previously founded and led an international volunteer organization for over 20 years, and he had participated in Support Center’s Interim ED Training just under two months before.
Upon starting his tenure as Interim ED at Sustainable Westchester on June 24, 2019, Steve immediately started working with the board to assess the viability of their initial staff restructuring plan. It was decided that the ideal course of action would be to initiate an amicable separation from the previous ED and proceed with restructuring the existing organizational staff hierarchy. The bulk of Steve’s efforts then focused on building up and improving internal structures, practices, and policies – the overall thrust being to professionalize and systematize Sustainable Westchester’s organizational functions. The board leadership later characterized Steve’s work as demonstrating to the board how a nonprofit is supposed to work. Nina Orville, Sustainable Westchester’s current ED, said, “Steve did very important work, focusing on the structures and processes of the organization, and ensuring the guidance and policies were in the right places.” As Steve embedded himself in the organization and gained the staff and board’s trust, the board gradually shifted its attention to the larger leadership transition underway. In mid-February 2020, the board engaged Support Center to lead the executive search for the organization’s next long-term leader. Affiliate Consultant Gilles Mesrobian was staffed to the project and quickly began the first phase, a pre-search assessment designed to illuminate the organization’s top strategic priorities and the key capacities of the next ED.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic produced a number of challenges to the launch of the search process, but Gilles started to work through document review and research, interviews, surveys, community engagement, and additional assessment activities. In mid-June he presented a pre-search report and executive profile to the board. After a series of meetings to refine the profile and build consensus around it, the board gave final approval in August, and the public search and recruitment phase commenced subsequently. The recruitment process led to a very healthy pool of strong external candidates. Gilles used a candidate evaluation scorecard created in conjunction with the board search committee to develop a slate of top candidates for the committee to consider. Over the course of this narrowing, an internal candidate emerged – Nina Orville, who had first been involved with Sustainable Westchester as the founder of a predecessor organization and then as a consultant, developing and leading solar programs and providing strategic guidance on other programs. Per Support Center’s practice around fair treatment of internal and external candidates, Nina went through the same rigorous review and vetting process as external candidates did. The board’s interview and selection process ultimately led to the hiring of Nina, which was announced on February 12, 2021. Although Nina was not initially interested in the long-term ED position at the outset of this transition, it was in large part the period of interim leadership that boosted the allure of the ED opening. “The work that (Steve) did made the opportunity to serve as ED attractive, because he addressed a host of important organizational issues, and set the organization and the incoming ED up for success,” Nina said. The board was also enthused by Nina’s candidacy and saw the benefits of a smooth internal transition that reflected the strength of the staff. As Gilles put it, “The testament to a nonprofit’s success is the strength of its people.” The board worked collaboratively with Nina, Steve, and Gilles on the handoff from one leader to the next, and Steve had his last day on February 24, 2021.
RIP Medical Debt
RIP Medical Debt was founded in 2014 and empowers donors to forgive billions in oppressive medical debt. They are dedicated to removing the burden of medical debt for individuals and families and veterans across America. In 2016, RIP Medical Debt began to experience tremendous growth and in 2020, Allison Sesso was brought on as the executive director. Currently, RIP Medical Debt has 25 full-time and part-time employees, and a number of consultants that contribute to the team. While they are headquartered in New York, like many organizations, they have a geographically diverse staff.
RIP Medical Debt approached Support Center in 2021 to explore staff trainings to promote a strong, positive work culture that would be engaging, fun, and provide skills to work effectively across differences in work styles. Support Center Facilitator Keith Green provided a DiSC assessment exercise and interactive workshop with the goals of building comradery and encouraging staff to think about their work styles and communication approaches.
Priscilla Keith, Director of Program Management, and Blanca Godoi, Administrative Services Manager, noted that the RIP Medical Debt staff enjoyed the DiSC assessment. “I noticed people saying things like, ‘I need to step back in meetings’, or, ‘I need to not over analyze everything.’ The staff, after an explanation of the DiSC, understood how it works and its applicability. Most of them agreed with their assessment and sought to understand how it related to the DiSC styles.”
Along with the DiSC assessment, RIP Medical Debt staff attended a workshop designed to engage staff with each other and facilitate self-reflection on their work styles and their own methods of interacting with colleagues. This felt especially pertinent in an era where relationships are built and sustained through video meetings and telephone calls.