The first decade of the millennium opened and closed with profound crises. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 forever altered the country in many ways.
Following a period of rapid economic growth, the financial collapse and subsequent massive unemployment that ended the decade have strained the social safety net to the breaking point and left many nonprofit human service agencies struggling for survival.
By the 1990s, most Alliance for Children and Families member agencies were heavily reliant on government funding. That funding may have come with a price. When the government initially began partnering with private nonprofit organizations to deliver human services, the intent wasn’t that providers would have to subsidize these services to the extent that their very sustainability was jeopardized. Yet few nonprofit organizations are reimbursed at 100 percent of their operational and administrative costs. Over the past few decades, reimbursement rates have steadily eroded compared to actual cost of services.
Now, amidst the economic crisis that befell the nation in 2008 and 2009, states increasingly are shifting their budgetary problems onto the nonprofit organizations that serve the most vulnerable populations. Governments are slashing budgets, cutting or eliminating programs, and delaying payments for services already rendered, while human service organizations struggle to meet increased demand with profound financial constraints.
“It’s the perfect storm,” says Robert Miles, president and CEO, Lutheran Child & Family Service of Michigan. “I don’t think we can cut our way out of these deficits if we’re going to be a viable organization going forward.”
Peter Goldberg, president and CEO of the Alliance, is a national leader in the call for reform of the government financing system. “The system has been broken for years, even decades. The economic situation has pushed this to a crisis point,” Goldberg says.
In May 2009, the Alliance, Deloitte, and Alliance member Hillside Family of Agencies in Rochester, N.Y., convened a diverse group of thought leaders to strategize the transformation of human services financing. The first step in transformation, the group emphasized, must be the creation of a fundamental national human services strategy committed to serving the entire individual or family. (“Human Services Financing for the 21st Century: A Blueprint for Building Stronger Children and Families;” Deloitte LLP, 2009)
“Our current system is highly fractured and under-resourced. There is no clear, consistent approach we can all work toward,” says Marty Mitchell, president and CEO of Starr Commonwealth in Albion, Mich. “Responsibility for human services planning and funding is spread across countless federal agencies and programs—each with its own priorities and goals, funding patterns, regulations, and reporting requirements. These federal silos are mimicked at the state level. These very prescriptive silos leave no room for flexibility, creativity, and innovation. Most decisions are being driven by economic realities rather than best practices and the best interests of children and families.”
The forum participants believe that bringing together all funders in a common strategy for human services planning will foster:
- Clear priorities
- Synergistic goals and unified outcomes expectations
- Higher-quality service integration.Innovation in programs, delivery, and funding
- Greater cost-effectiveness
Amidst this economic environment, the Alliance has never been more relevant or the need for its advocacy and capacity building services more urgent.
Maintaining a Strong Value Proposition
Members, of course, have been the first priority of the organization since its founding in 1911. But the Members First values proposition established formally in 2002 puts this commitment front and center, ensuring a standard by which all future activities are planned, implemented, and measured. “The Alliance for Children and Families is a model by which we bring capital, knowledge, and resources in through the organization and distribute them back out to and among members,” says Jimmie Alford, former chair of both the Alliance and Families International Boards of Directors. “Its pillars are public policy, intellectual capital, resources, and collegiality. I think that has held the Alliance strong during this recessionary period. Members see the return on investment is a good value.”
In addition to serving its membership, the Alliance also is acutely attuned to its role as the leader in the sector. It acts as a sort of “national radar” to keep members apprised of important trends and issues, advocate on behalf of their interests, and amplify their voice.
The current Alliance mission statement embodies these commitments:
Our MISSION is to fuse intellectual capital with superior membership services in order to strengthen the capacities of North America’s nonprofit child and family serving organizations to serve and to advocate for children, families and communities so that together we may pursue our VISION of a healthy society and strong communities for all children and families.
“Realistically, under the current circumstances, Alliance members have to use all of their energy to serve the children and families that need services today. We, as members, don’t always have time to think about the future, but the Alliance has the capacity to begin to anticipate what needs we will have even before they arrive,” says B. Scott Finnell, chair of the Alliance Board of Directors in 2010 and president and CEO of Pressley Ridge in Pittsburgh.
The Alliance provides a wealth of resources and opportunities for its members, including conferences, executive councils, workshops, on-line discussion groups, webinars, and community of practice networks.
The year 2009 marked the 90th anniversary of Families in Society, the Alliance’s highly- respected, peer-reviewed social work journal. The journal continues to be at the forefront of cutting-edge research and expert practice. The oldest social service journal in North America, it was first published as Social Casework and intended as a “workshop of ideas.” It was edited by Margaret E. Rich for many years. The Alliance for Children & Families Magazine and the Nonprofit Director further enhance member capacity and keep them abreast of cutting edge practice and policy.
The Severson Information Center continues to be one of the most utilized resources offered by the Alliance. It is highly valued for its personalized member services and comprehensive literature and data resources. The Severson Center’s annual executive trend report, Scanning the Horizons, was enhanced with web-based updates, monitoring, and analysis. These tools help Alliance members with strategic planning, program development, grant proposals, and media interviews, among many other timely subjects.
The Department of Evaluation and Research Services continued to produce an annual human services compensation in the United States report. The department produced research and analysis on behalf of Alliance departments and grant-funded programs. Additionally, individual member agencies can contract with the department for services. The department also oversees the Alliance’s partnership in the Listening Post Project, led by the Center for Civil Society Studies at Johns Hopkins University. Many Alliance members serve actively as “listening posts” by reporting back how they are adapting to specific issues affecting their operation. This feedback brings the lessons of practice in the nonprofit sector to the attention of researchers, educators, policy-makers, media, and other nonprofit practitioners.
Among the numerous cutting-edge tools, learning opportunities, and information implemented in this decade are:
Executive Leadership Institute
Like their predecessors, the majority of the people stepping into nonprofit human services leadership roles today rise through the ranks of professional practice, not management. In these increasingly challenging times, business and leadership expertise are essential.“
When I got an MSW back in the 1960s, I never thought I’d have to worry about budgets, finances, and legalities. No one would ever have thought of suing a children’s home 50 years ago. Today, people don’t hesitate,” observes Tom Curcio, president and CEO of the Board of Child Care in Baltimore. “We work in a much more complex environment. As leaders, we have to be high performers and well versed in so many different aspects of organizational development.”
The Alliance partnered with the Board of Child Care to create this formal executive training program. The Board of Child Care hosted and provided funding for the Executive Leadership Institute, founded in 2002. “Tom Curcio took the germ of an idea and transformed it into a comprehensive program,” says Peter Goldberg, president and CEO of the Alliance and its parent company, Families International. Since 2005, the University of Michigan School of Social Work and Ross School of Business have co-sponsored the program. The certificate program increases knowledge and skills in key leadership and management responsibilities and is completed in two, one-week sessions over two years. Participants also complete a yearlong individual project.
Turning the Tide
Concerned about the shortage of qualified nonprofit human services leaders in the years ahead, coupled with a lack of interest in the field among talented young people, the Alliance partnered with the national nonprofit Public Allies on a program to recruit diverse young talent to the field.
The Turning the Tide program began in 2006 by conducting research to better understand the barriers and opportunities to recruiting young talent. With a grant from AmeriCorps, the program then began the pilot phase. In 2009, 10 fellows, recruited by Public Allies, were employed in fellowships at Alliance members Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan in Milwaukee; La Casa de Esperanza in Waukesha, Wis.; Children’s Home + Aid in Chicago; and Board of Child Care in Baltimore. Leadership skills, mentoring, peer networks, and other support are important components of the program.
Intellectual Capital Seed Fund
In the works since 2006, the Intellectual Capital Seed Fund positions the Alliance and its members for the future by funding unique, forward-looking research opportunities. “It’s the thought side of the world—innovative concepts and challenging ideas,” says Goldberg. The seed fund, funded solely through donations, enables the Alliance and its members to stay on the leading edge of changes in the field. Currently, an Intellectual Capital Seed Fund Committee is working with a consulting firm to create a business plan for its first proposed initiative, formation of a neuroethics center to serve the nonprofit human services sector.
“I think there is an interesting balancing act going on between highly pragmatic and aspirational ideas,” says Jane L. Polin, a philanthropic advisor and member of the Intellectual Capital Seed Fund Committee. “We could have picked something that was very nuts and bolts, but that choice doesn’t speak to the need to develop intellectual capital.”
Joseph Reibman, who made a major gift to help establish the fund, agrees. “The Intellectual Capital Seed Fund creates an opportunity for the Alliance to have a lasting funding resource to develop new programs and centers of excellence for the social services field.”
Resource Development Solutions
The Alliance’s Resource Development Solutions (RDS) program was created with a 1998 planning grant from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. A volunteer committee of agency CEOs and fund development staff, together with professionals from the development field, understood the need for member agencies to build sophisticated development capacities. They created a core group of services, including the Fund Development Training Series, a comprehensive manual of seven training modules for self-study or workshop presentation.
The series remains at the heart of the RDS program. Additionally, RDS presents webinars, hosts an annual RDS conference, identifies and publicizes grant opportunities, and provides mentoring. In partnership with the Severson Center, RDS collects and disseminates published and membership-generated materials on resource development. Bob Jones, president and CEO of Children’s Aid and Family Services in Paramus, N.J., has chaired the RDS Advisory Committee since 1999. In addition, Jones writes a quarterly resource development column for the Alliance for Children & Families Magazine, and shares his knowledge and counsel with Alliance colleagues. Jones defines philanthropy as “personal and financial acts of kindness that touch another life.”
Families International and United Neighborhood Centers of America Affiliation
In the early 1900s, two important human service movements were developing across the United States. And just a few years after the dawn of the 21st century, these two powerful movements came together in an affiliation that further strengthens children, families, and communities.
Both the settlement house movement and charity organization societies began in the late 1800s, concerned with improving the lives of those at the very margins of society. Where the early charity organization societies tended to focus on individual casework with families, the settlement houses worked to improve conditions in entire neighborhoods. Both groups formed independent national organizations in 1911. The settlement houses came together as the National Federation of Settlement Houses, founded by Jane Addams, who also founded Chicago’s famous Hull-House, and other recognized leaders of the progressive movement (Lillian Wald, Graham Taylor, Mary Simkhovitch, among others). Today, that organization is known as United Neighborhood Centers of America (UNCA). The charity organization societies formed the National Association of Societies for Organizing Charity, the predecessor of today’s Alliance for Children and Families.
In 2006, UNCA affiliated with the Families International group of companies and is a sister organization to the Alliance. The organizations had been working toward the affiliation since 2003. Both organizations retained their separate dues structure, governance, and programs, but the affiliation will enable UNCA to contract with Families International for organizational infrastructure and with the Alliance for additional programs and services for its member agencies.
UNCA is a national advocate for social justice, neighborhood-based progress, and community building. Its network is inclusive, multi-generational, family-oriented, asset-based, and rooted in the rich tradition of the settlement house movement.
Over time, most settlement houses have evolved into neighborhood centers. Today, UNCA’s members typically work in urban neighborhoods of great opportunity but concentrated poverty. They build community in a variety of different contexts including through early childhood development, youth development programming and alternative/charter schools, material assistance for families, adult education and job skills training, senior programming, leadership development, economic development, community organizing, and a host of other community engagement programs.
Since implementing its 1995–1997 strategic plan, the Alliance had targeted a growth strategy that includes affiliation with other like-minded organizations. Over the decades, the missions and values of UNCA and the Alliance became increasingly compatible. Both organizations are membership driven and place a high value on advocacy and civic engagement.
Advocacy is an essential component of both UNCA and the Alliance for Children and Families and a key motive for the affiliation. The main synergy between UNCA and the Alliance is the combined public policy office in Washington D.C. Working together on this important element provides a stronger voice on the national level, and has already proven beneficial.
“We have struggled with forming a collective force that is large and powerful enough to be able to influence policy decisions that are primarily being made by state and federal governments,” said Sam Watkins, Jr., former chair of the UNCA Board of Directors, at the time the affiliation was announced in 2006. “We want to improve and enhance the potential to influence policy, and we see this affiliation as being a clear vehicle by which we can achieve that. No matter if an organization is part of the Alliance or UNCA, they will now be a part of a larger collective voice, and together we will be working very hard to make life much better and much more productive for the people we all serve.”
“Working together, the Alliance, UNCA and their combined membership networks have a powerful voice,” says Patrick Lester, senior vice president for public policy for the Alliance and UNCA. “We can make change happen; we already have. Millions of our fellow citizens are counting on it.”
The organizations experienced a victory in October 2007 when a proposed plan to divert funds intended for after-school funding through the federal No Child Left Behind legislation was stopped. The proposal could have cut millions of dollars in funding for after-school programs—including many run by UNCA members. UNCA and the Alliance contributed about a quarter of the 200 state and local organizations that signed on to a letter to Congress generated by the Afterschool Alliance opposing the change.
In 2008, the Alliance and UNCA effectively used targeted tactics to realize victories related to child welfare reform, Medicaid regulations, mental health parity, and after-school program funding. They teamed with member organizations and allied national organizations to host conference calls between constituent providers and targeted lawmakers, organize sign-on letters to Congress, and prepare national organization letters for Senate leaders.
The public policy office closely tracked the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009 and 2010 to help members take advantage of potential new funding streams. The staff prepared a 17-page analysis of the legislation. Conference calls, attracting more than 250 staff of member organizations, provided more detail about the legislation. Policy analysis was augmented by concerted advocacy for measures in the proposed health care reform and other legislation that directly benefited members or protected their interests.
“These victories and the work that went into each one have laid the groundwork for more victories in the future,” says Lester. “This work established critical relationships and heightened our reputation.”
Tried and True form of Community engagement Rises to Forefront
“When the avowed aim of most agencies is to eventually ‘go out of business,’ increasing the number of clients or customers is not a favorable outcome,” observes Bob Feikema, director of Programs and Community Initiatives of the former Parental Stress Center in Pittsburgh, Pa. The agency was acquired by Family Resources, also an Alliance member, in early 2010. “Strategies for improvement of individuals and families, though worthy, have not and will not change the structural and environmental conditions under which people live. As a long-time community organizer once observed, ‘If everyone’s achieving these great outcomes, then how come my neighborhood still looks the same?’”
In 2003, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund turned to the Alliance to learn why more nonprofit agencies were not playing an active role in the public policy and civic engagement arenas. After extensive research and focus groups with member agencies, the Alliance identified the barriers that prevent agencies from engaging in advocacy. Most agencies said that they didn’t have the knowledge, skills, or tools to engage. Many said that they were timid about biting the hand that feeds them. The Alliance obtained funding to launch the Building Community Voices project, which trains and supports agency board members and staff to become more active advocates.
The Alliance also began to address the parallel issue of how agencies could encourage the people they serve to become more vocal and involved participants in civic life. Theirs could be the most powerful voice, but too often it is silent. Through funding by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, New Voices at the Civic Table began in 2005 as a pilot project with six member agencies. During the seven months of the pilot, constituents were able to:
- Gain seats on city decision-making bodies
- Work with a state senator to bring forward legislation
- Increase public benefits and the state’s English as a second language education budget
- Address local media outlets
- Take the lead in planning community wide advocacy training
“Civic engagement and public policy work are different. Public policy is a top-down approach, typically directed to just a few key decision-makers at the federal or state level,” explains Linda Nguyen, director of civic engagement for the Alliance. “Civic engagement is a grassroots, bottom-up approach. We try to engage as many constituents as possible at the community level. Civic engagement helps people become active in the democratic process. For example, it includes community problem-solving, organizing to affect change, discussion and deliberation, and voting.” Together, public policy and civic engagement encompass the full spectrum of political influence, from the local school board to the U.S. Congress.
Citizenry is the foundation for a civic society. The New Voices at the Civic Table initiative augments the ability of human service organizations to work as change agents, promoting, encouraging, and mobilizing marginalized constituents. One of the hurdles in civic engagement work is overcoming the barriers that keep people from becoming involved: poverty, language and literacy, lack of education or transportation, racial and economic inequities, and other issues. With major funding by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and other foundation support, New Voices at the Civic Table has been expanded since 2006. The funding enables the Alliance to provide grants to member agencies so they can explore innovative initiatives that break these barriers and fully engage their constituents in civic life; to use and make heard their authentic voice. In addition, the Alliance provides civic engagement training institutes for Alliance and UNCA members and other organizations.
The results have been inspiring. Doors opened, self-esteem increased, systems changed, programs created, mutual understanding fostered, connections formed ... individual lives and entire communities improved. Member agencies that successfully engaged their constituents in civic life also gained positive media attention and, in many cases, additional funding to support this work.
(Resources: “New Voices at the Civic Table: How six human service organizations are supporting the civic engagement of community members,” Laura Pinsoneault, Alliance for Children and Families, 2006; “A New Vision for Civic Engagement,” Final Report for 2009 to Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Alliance for Children and Families, March 2010)
Another long-standing program at the Alliance, National Family Week, has also taken a stronger turn toward supporting civic engagement and advocacy efforts. With support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, National Family Week transitioned to a focus on civic engagement projects that promote year round family-strengthening work—which in turn supports and fosters long-term systemic change. The goal is to bring visibility to agencies’ civic engagement initiatives, amplify the voice of community members, and celebrate success in enhancing social change that strengthens children and families.
Public Policy Continues to Make Inroads
The public policy office in Washington D.C. has two major goals: to positively influence policies in Washington that affect member organizations and the people they serve, and to position members to take advantage of those policies as they are implemented.
With the fiscal crisis of the late 1990s, the public policy office worked toward policies that support funding streams to programs impacting children, families, and neighborhoods. In February 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, a $787 billion economic recovery package. The public policy office worked to identify grant opportunities and access funding for members. In addition, the office worked toward policies to ensure prompt payment by public agencies to charitable organizations for government-funded services and to establish a low- or no-interest bridge loan fund for agencies facing short-term cash flow problems. In addition, it fought efforts to limit charity advocacy and lobbying rights.
From 2000 to 2010, the public policy office addressed a broad range of other issues, including child welfare, mental health, welfare reform, education, and other areas of interest to nonprofit organizations.
Each year, the office works with the public policy committee, comprised of UNCA and Alliance member organization representatives, to set a public policy agenda. The public policy office staff then goes into gear, researching, developing policy papers and analyses, sign-on letters and other materials, mobilizing the membership and other nonprofit organizations, working with the media, and working to educate and influence key policy and decision-makers.
“The only way to influence Capitol Hill is to bring knowledge to the table that they do not have,” says Lester. “That is the great value of the Alliance and UNCA. We have information that they lack about how programs really work and how people’s lives are impacted.”
In addition to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, key legislation in this decade was the Children’s Health Act of 2000, which contained provisions to protect non-medical, community-based facilities. Changes to Medicaid policies enacted by the President George W. Bush administration, which limited funding for mental health services such as therapeutic foster care, was an ongoing issue. The public policy office worked to influence reform of the federal financing of Title IV-E foster care programs. The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act passed in 2008 with heavy bipartisan support. Health care reform deeply divided the country and a bill was passed in early 2010. The public policy office worked extensively to insert language into the bill addressing funding streams, payments rates, and other issues of concern to members and their constituents.
A major function of the public policy office is to monitor and keep members abreast of funding opportunities. The public policy office keeps members up-to-date and involved in numerous ways, through issue-specific e-mail lists, legislative updates and issues briefs, teleconferences, a column in the Alliance for Children & Families Magazine, and theWashington Insider blog.
Five-Year Grant Opens New Doors for Members and Alliance
The New Age of Aging initiative is a five-year project of the Alliance to help member agencies and their workforce prepare for the needs of older adults. The project is funded by Atlantic Philanthropies.
The leading edge of the post-World War II baby boomers have reached their mid-60s. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that by 2030, the population of adults age 65 and older will double the 2004 figure, reaching 71 million. The National Association of Social Workers reports substantial and increasing disparities between the demand for social workers trained in gerontology and the number who are receiving training in this field.
Family service agencies traditionally have focused on children, parenting, and the nuclear family. Yet the missions and infrastructures of family service agencies and neighborhood centers are ideally suited to integrating older adults into their client, employee, and volunteer base. And children’s service organizations have a long history of residential care and home-based alternatives to institutionalization, which are ideas that can be adapted for an older population.
The New Age of Aging provides mini-grants to Alliance member agencies for projects related to older adults. Additionally, other grants are provided to support members in intensive year-long mentoring relationships with other member agencies. The goals of the New Age of Aging is that together, the Alliance and member agencies will develop new ideas, build solutions, and become change agents in addressing the physical, social, and emotional needs of the new generation of older adults.
Indeed, the New Age of Aging will position the Alliance and its members to lead the field. It will support cultural, operational, and structural change in human service organizations. It will provide the human services workforce with insights, knowledge, understanding, and skills to offer innovative, compassionate, and appropriate programs for older adults.
The project is supported by a wealth of resources, including case studies of creative programming, longitudinal studies of participants in the mentoring initiative, articles in the Alliance for Children & Families Magazine and Families in Society, and other special publications and web-based resources.
Read the next chapter from A Century of Service.