With a new executive at the helm, Center for Women in Transition experienced its own share of change in 2017.
But it didn’t come solely in the form of new leadership. Social services agencies continue to feel the squeeze from precarious grant funding, prompting the Holland-based agency to look at ways to diversify its services and revenue streams, better serve clients and take care of employees.
While the organization strives to innovate and act entrepreneurially, Executive Director Beth Larsen’s top management practices are intertwined with those outcomes.
“Being mission-centered, having a strong, connected board and caring for your people are really core and are embedded in everything else,” she said.
The Center for Women in Transition was named a finalist in the MiBiz Best-Managed Nonprofits Awards in the midsize organization category. The center has provided domestic violence and sexual assault services in Ottawa and Allegan Counties since 1977, and offers a continuum of prevention and intervention services for men, women, and LGBTQ survivors, and children exposed to domestic violence.
Some key accomplishments in the last year or so include reducing reliance on grants and increasing financial contributions, adding the first-ever survivor advisory council chair to its board of directors, and forging better collaborations in the community.
“What I see as a common thread is the need for innovation and the need for just taking a fresh perspective on sexual and domestic violence, and recognizing the issues are so prevalent that we have got to work closely with our partners in the system, whether those are businesses, the cops, the courts or attorneys,” she said.
“We have to be well-connected with the schools, with the child welfare system. In order for the clients to get the best experience, we have to be able to communicate well and work with our program partners.”
First hired as a program manager in 2007, Larsen left the organization for outside executive experience in 2013 before returning in April to take over as executive director. Over the summer, Larsen and the board focused on redoing the organization’s strategic plan, including looking at ways to increase business and community partnerships, training child welfare staff in Ottawa County on domestic violence, and building the capacity of the community to respond.
Larsen also examined wages and benefits of similar nonprofits in the sector to make sure CWIT remains competitive and can attract and retain the best people. The agency continues to roll out salary increases and improved benefit packages, she said.
The Center has 37 employees and approximately 90 volunteers who help deliver a comprehensive continuum of care. The agency served 1,500 individuals through programs and services, and helped another 2,000 via its crisis line during the 2017 fiscal year.
CWIT provides 24-hour response to sexual and domestic violence calls, emergency shelter and legal advocacy for domestic violence victims, emergency response and exams for sexual assault victims, and community outreach, education and training programs.
The center also offers trauma therapy and case management, children’s therapy and supportive housing and other services as survivors are starting over.
As with many nonprofits, CWIT has had to deal with the unreliability of federal and state grant funding. That’s led the Center’s board to focus on new revenue streams and partnerships while remaining committed to prevention programs.
Between 2012 and 2017, CWIT reduced its federal and state grant revenue by 9 percent and increased financial contributions by 12 percent.
The Forward Together campaign exceeded the $2.25 million goal last June while still in the “quiet phase.” The campaign supports the agency’s endowment, capital fund and short-term program needs, and creates a sustainable revenue stream to expand and continue programs regardless of grants.
Another revenue stream came in the form of a new fee-for-service training program for local businesses, faith communities and partner organizations. The agency’s “Prevention Pays: Domestic Violence and the Workplace” training evolved out of the need for supervisors and staff to be better trained to respond to domestic violence situations. Several major employers in the region including Gentex, Holland Hospital and Herman Miller have offered the training.
An initiative close to Larsen’s heart was adding a survivor to the board of directors for the first time in the agency’s history and developing a Survivor Advisory Council comprised of survivors who have used the agency’s services.
The Council’s role is to ensure survivor voices are heard and represented in all the agency does and that services remain relevant and survivor-centered. The chair’s governing seat on the full board ensures representation is carried over into the governance of the organization, Larsen said.
Other innovations and expansions have focused on outreach and educational programs. Last summer, the Center created a specialized trauma therapy group curriculum for incarcerated women in the Allegan County Jail.
In 2017, through a three-year grant from the Office of Violence Against Women (OVW), the Center added a full-time staff person dedicated to engaging men and boys as allies in preventing domestic and sexual violence. The agency also partners with local school districts to conduct a Violence Prevention Inventory and assess their policies and procedures.
“It’s so important to work with our youth in recognizing that this is not an issue that only affects adults,” she said. “A lot of our youth are starting to experience violence in their relationships. We help them look at policies and practices and bullying. This is ultimately about respect.”
Center for Women in Transition
Mission: The Center’s mission is to respond to, reduce and prevent domestic and sexual violence. This mission will be achieved through education, collaboration and advocacy, with crisis and supportive services to victims and survivors.
Service Area: Ottawa and Allegan counties
Executive director: Beth Larsen
Number of employees: 37
Annual budget: $2.39 million
Management best practices:
- Mission-centered: At the heart of every decision is our mission. This encompasses not only the programming we provide, but also the need for sound, mission-driven financial management practices, community partnerships and donor relationships.
- Strong board/executive relationship: A true partnership between the board and its executive
- leadership team is key to an organization’s success. Having a clear strategic direction, priorities and objectives ensures that we are aligning our human and financial resources succinctly.
- Caring for our people: If we expect our employees and volunteers to bring their best selves to work, we have to begin by investing in and caring for them. Empowerment is at the core of everything we do. Ensuring staff and employees have the tools they need to be successful in their roles is critical.
Board of directors: Vicki Rosenberg (president), Vicki Rosenberg & Associates; Jean Martin (vice president), Kirkhoff School of Nursing at GVSU, retired; Diane Ybarra (immediate past president), Global Concepts; Sandra Trammell (secretary/treasurer), Holland Hospital; Tracy Brinks (Survivor Advisory Council Chair), purchaser/scheduler for a local firm; Michael Brown, Hope College; Sue Fleming, West Michigan Works!; Colleen Hill, Huntington Bank; Dave Lindberg, Council of Michigan Foundations; Mat Nguyen, Worksighted; Paul Pruitt, Spectrum Health Rehab and Nursing Center; Carol Sarosik, retired health care executive; Chris Wright, Spectrum Health
Editor’s note: This story has been updated from its original form.