Alliance Operations Support Services help Youth MOVE National focus on strengthening its chapter network

Situational Overview

Community-based organizations perform a vital function in the human services ecosystem and account for nearly $200 billion in economic activity throughout the U.S. Youth MOVE National (YMN), an Iowa-based organization that supports a chapter network, understands the critical impact community-based organizations have on children, families, and neighborhoods.

“Our purpose and mission is to unite the voices of young people who have lived experience in our country’s mental health, juvenile justice, and child welfare systems,” explained Executive Director Johanna Bergan. “We have chapters in 38 states operating in either a county, city, or statewide capacity.”

Ensuring organizations like YMN have the capabilities to effectively execute on their missions is of growing significance. A National Imperative: Joining Forces to Strengthen Human Services in America, a landmark report by the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities and the American Public Human Services Association, identified five “North Star” initiatives integral to the future growth and sustainability of the country’s community-based organizations:

  • Commitment to Outcomes
  • Capacity for Innovation
  • Strategic Partnerships
  • New Financial Strategies
  • Regulatory Modernization

Pursuing these strategies requires organizations to refine operating procedures in a way that prioritizes mission and vision over the micromanagement of day-to-day administration. However, for many small to midsize nonprofits, achieving this goal often requires help.

Challenge

YMN works diligently to mitigate risks associated with finances, compliance, and other operational controls, but it can be difficult for smaller organizations with tight resources. Staffing issues because of an organization’s size, the inability to compete with for-profit compensation packages, and deficits in staff and/or organizational knowledge concerning back-office responsibilities contribute to an overburdened nonprofit sector.

“Prior to obtaining our 501(c)(3) status, we faced challenges managing funds and accounts in a way that made sense to us as a program,” shared Bergan. “I was on the board of directors at the time, and we would ask a lot of questions with unclear answers. As executive director, I’ve come to realize we were tracking numbers with less attention to detail. It was difficult to run reports down to the minutiae of what something like the travel budget looked like.”

YMN is far from being the only organization facing such challenges. Across the country, daily tasks, ranging from detailed budget reports to regular donor stewardship, siphon limited energy and resources that could be better directed toward program implementation. Because dollars available for overhead functions are particularly scarce, nonprofits should look for smart ways to maximize these resources.

For organizations that cannot cost-effectively sustain internal capacity and expertise in administrative functions, the gap will continually widen and plague their abilities to focus and execute on their missions.

Solution

The Alliance is dedicated to helping community-based organizations bolster their approach to risk management, improve the effectiveness of fund usage, and understand the benefit of shared services—all of which allow for an increased focus on mission and people served.

YMN, along with multiple other organizations, contracts with the Alliance to provide operations support services such as accounting, payroll, bookkeeping, and human resources assistance. The partnership, which started in 2013, enables YMN to delegate responsibilities that would otherwise detract from mission fulfillment.

“I think we have a lot of grit on our team, but at the end of the day we don’t have to do everything,” said Bergan. “If there’s an entity that’s doing support services well, and it can do them for your organization, then let them. The resulting freedom allows you to focus instead on becoming an expert in the work you’re doing in your community.”

The Alliance has established many strategic partnerships to facilitate provision of operations support services that can be customized for any size nonprofit:

  • Flexible accounting and bookkeeping assistance delivered directly by Alliance staff
  • Comprehensive, competitively priced group health insurance packages offered via industry leaders that cover thousands of companies and hundreds of thousands of lives
  • Employee assistance and work-life services from FEI Behavioral Health, the Alliance’s social enterprise
  • The ability to provide a wide range of retirement plans and planning services to employees, with the added value of no administrative fees
  • A cost-effective alternative to the state unemployment tax system
  • Access to group purchasing savings programs

To further support community-based organizations, the Alliance looks to expand its breadth of services. Risk management and compliance; fundraising and development; information technology and information systems; and public relations, marketing, and communications support are areas the Alliance intends to expand in conjunction with the continuing enhancement of human resources, finance, and administrative assistance.

"I’m very excited about the idea of the Alliance expanding its offerings,” said Bergan. “Capacity is a big deal. We’re too small to hire an HR manager, for example, and I think expanding areas like HR and development are high priorities for many community-based organizations.”

Bergan also cited the Alliance’s personal touch, noting that finance, accounting, and human resources experts are always available to pick up the phone or quickly respond to email. Flexibility, too, has proven an invaluable asset, allowing YMN to work closely with Alliance staff when running reports or evaluating organizational policies and procedures.

The Alliance places great value on helping partners actualize their missions. What has partnering with the Alliance allowed Bergan and YMN to accomplish?

“It lets me sleep at night!” exclaimed Bergan. “It lets my team do our work. We are very missiondriven and have a lot of important energy that goes to being responsive to our network. Knowing our financial books are in order—that our staff are going to get paid—lets us focus energy where we want it to be: With our network, and not so much on the backend side of things.”