KALAMAZOO — A conversation among the leaders of four nonprofits has resulted in a collaboration that’s designed to save money and resources and improve service delivery to their clients.
Human resources, information technology, professional development and accounting are among the functions being built into the infrastructure of the new Hub ONE collaborative. While it is not designed to be an independent nonprofit organization, it will have a chief of staff and employees, whose work will be guided by the four organizations’ executive directors in cooperation with their boards of directors, other nonprofit organizations, donors and community partners.
Those organizations and their top executives are: Amy Kuchta, Big Brothers Big Sisters; Luke Kujacznski, Urban Alliance; Matt Lynn, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kalamazoo; and Danielle Sielatycki, Prevention Works Inc. The initiative is funded through a three-year, $8.3 million grant from the Kalamazoo-based Stryker Johnston Foundation.
While the majority of the grant will be used to fund Hub ONE infrastructure costs, each of the participating agencies will receive a portion of the funding to address issues such as staffing levels, improvements to buildings and pay equity, Kuchta said.
Kujacznski said all too often, people raise questions about the costs associated with salaries and the operation of nonprofits.
“That’s a major thing,” he said. “We need to be able to take care of our people and our staff so they are able to provide services. The average tenure is two years for frontline staff at nonprofits. We need to figure out how to retain our staffs.”
However, another conversation involves how organizations partner and collaborate and the power dynamics that exist between the funding community and nonprofits.
“It’s hard to have conversations about power dynamics when you’re operating in a scarcity mindset,” Kujacznski said. “We need nonprofits to be telling the truth about what it is that they’re seeing.
“We feel like there’s almost an imperative trend with how funding is coming out for nonprofits with issues that are becoming larger. We feel like we’re behind. In Kalamazoo, poverty has held steady or grown despite the work being done by individual organizations. We need to shift our response. We’re all doing great work, but we’re not seeing the collective results.”
Some of this is due to the amount of time spent writing grants to foundations or organizations that fund nonprofits year after year, Kujacznski said. He likens the continuous grant writing process to being on a “hamster wheel.”
“It’s common for nonprofits to build a relationship with foundations, but every year we have to spend a lot of time writing grants,” Kujacznski said. “A CEO’s time should be spent working on the sector as opposed to filling out grant applications. There’s a power dynamic that exists between funders and nonprofits and we need to be able to say, ‘This is how your decisions are impacting our ability to fulfill our mission.’”
Kuchta said at some point, Hub ONE might have an opportunity to have a grant writer available for the collaborating agencies. However, the initial hiring for Hub ONE will include the chief of staff, human resources personnel and navigators who will work directly with clients to connect them to resources in the community.
“If an agency hears that someone needs assistance with housing, they give them a phone number to call,” Kuchta said. “The navigator will actually walk alongside families. There are multiple steps they have to go through to ensure that each family has the support they need to access services. This will make it much easier for families to navigate systems.”
From the agency perspective, the collaboration will enable them to work together on areas including procurement and negotiating so that instead of one agency signing a contract, all four of them will sign it, Kujacznski said.
“As nonprofits, we’re frowned upon for having salaries and resources that are put into non-direct program costs,” Kuchta said. “Each agency has a different level of human resources and we’re all doing procurement and I.T. on a shoestring budget.”
Hub ONE will give the nonprofits access to content experts in these areas who will support each agency so that their funds are being spent effectively and leveraged for cost savings and infrastructure.
“It’s going to help us to run more like a business so we have more money to put toward our programming,” Kuchta said.
Discussions that resulted in Hub ONE began in 2017 when the group of nonprofit CEOs met to see how they could use their collective voices to improve the sector and the effectiveness of the services they provide.
“We started meeting to talk about our individual issues and frustrations as CEOs and we realized we were all having the same challenges,” Kuchta said. “Then we said: ‘Are we going to complain or do something to move the sectors along? Can we see a way to use our dollars to best serve families and kids in our community?’”
The response from the boards of each of the collaborating agencies and the community’s nonprofit sector has been positive, Kujacznski said.
“The populations we serve don’t care what our logos look like,” he said. “The conversations we’ve had with our boards and committees were necessary dialogues in a shift in how we think about the work that we do.
“Nonprofits should be working at a level where the populations they serve is the most important thing, not their own identity. Everyone wants to build their own network of funders and be champions of their community, but they need other nonprofits to be successful because it’s not work we could do alone.”
The collaboration made sense for the four agencies involved because they each deal with issues affecting children and families and saw opportunities to provide crossover services and possibly consolidate fundraising efforts where it makes sense.
One such fundraising opportunity already has been identified.
Lynn said Old National Bank’s signature fundraiser, “100 Men Who Cook,” an event held every other year with proceeds going to his organization, has been renamed to “100 Cooks Who Care.” Proceeds from the next event will go to Hub ONE and be divided up among the participating agencies.
“Within the sector, it’s not going to do any good if one agency has a lot more money and one doesn’t,” Kujacznski said. “There’s a level of trust if we do a fundraiser that if one organization is in a difficult spot, we’ll obviously give them more.”
Lynn said he considers Old National’s decision to be an example of the business community’s belief in the Hub ONE concept.
From the donor perspective, Kujacznski said he thinks the new collaboration will provide some relief.
“If you look at how many fundraisers there are in this city in a given year and how much money and time is spent to get them off the ground, I think the community response to joint fundraisers and joint events so far is almost of relief that this type of collaboration is happening,” he said.
The number one commitment from organizations is to look at the overall impact for the families being served by these organizations, Lynn said.
“We only have ‘X’ amount of people coming through the doors, but we know that families are so much more than just the organizations that serve them,” he said. “By doing work in a much more collaborative and connected fashion, we’re better able to serve people so that we can move them from a place of poverty to prosperity.”
That’s also the goal for the nonprofits involved with Hub ONE.
“This is a paradigm shift from what’s been considered a scarcity model to an abundance model,” Lynn said. “With nonprofits, we live hand to mouth and grant to grant with budgets. …This collaboration will improve results for families by maximizing the capacity of organizations with resources.”
While Hub ONE is a new concept here, Kujacznski said there have been successful efforts in other areas of the United States where the collaborative model is being used with the sole purpose of navigating nonprofit clients from agency to agency to get the services they need.
There are no current plans to expand the scope of Hub ONE to include additional agencies.
“We’re so far down the trail of building trust, we just want to keep this core team and want to help other hubs get off the ground,” Kujacznski said. “If we were to add another person right now, we’d have to go back to the beginning of building trust, and we’re two years into that process.”
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