Resilience: How the Stronger Nonprofits Initiative is ensuring access while changing the narrative

Resilience: How the Stronger Nonprofits Initiative is ensuring access while changing the narrative

Boldness. Resilience. Community. These were some of the words in the air at the June 18th event kicking off the second year of the Stronger Nonprofits Initiative (SNI), a program for Chicago-based nonprofits that are led by or predominantly serve people and communities of color.

“SNI takes some of the strongest, most resilient nonprofits out there and works with them to ensure they have the access to capital and financial resources that they need to leverage their strength and create even greater impact in the communities they serve,” said Victoria Lakes-Battle, IFF’s Executive Director for the Chicago Region. “This is about access, it’s about time, it’s about knowing what kind of resources are available.”

Funded through a grant from JPMorgan Chase & Co., the Stronger Nonprofits Initiative aims to provide nonprofit executives and their boards with the technical assistance and capital they need to become financially stronger, build their net assets, and succeed on their own terms. IFF is administering the program in partnership with Fiscal Management Associates.

In 2017, the first 10 Chicago-area nonprofits participated in the program. The groups represented a variety of sectors – housing, workforce development, early education, youth development, health care, and more – and spanned the city. They ranged in size from just two staff people to more than 200, with budgets ranging from about $800,000 to more than $10 million.

Despite their differences, though, they shared a lot in common. “Initially, I expected that I would take a deeper dive into my financial health and learn more about my real estate portfolio. But, I did not expect to establish fruitful partnerships with about seven other organizations, sharpen the leadership skills of my staff, learn about alternate revenue sources, or have professionals come out and work with my Board of Directors,” said Christa A. Hamilton, Executive Director for the Centers for New Horizons. “That is what SNI is about – developing the capacities of the organizations that are taking out the time to invest into themselves. As a nonprofit, that is the type of support that we need to take us to the next level.”

After completing the program, many of the groups are launching new strategic planning efforts related to both their facilities and their financing. So far, four of the 10 groups have closed on loans to refinance, provide bridge funds during capital campaigns, or finance the acquisition and rehab of new spaces. Additionally, eight of the 10 groups have begun working with real estate consultants on projects ranging from early-stage planning and feasibility studies to site search and construction management.

“At JPMorgan Chase, we believe that a strong nonprofit sector is essential to advancing inclusive economic growth. Last year, we committed $40 million over the next three years to identify evidence-based solutions that help open pathways to opportunity for Chicagoans, particularly on the South and West Sides,” said Damion Heron, Vice President of the Office of Nonprofit Engagement at JPMorgan Chase. “The Stronger Nonprofits Initiative is one of the key programs receiving support, and we are thrilled that the program is already yielding great results, helping nonprofits become financially resilient and expand opportunities in our communities.”

Representatives from more than 60 nonprofits gathered at the JPMorgan Chase & Co. headquarters in downtown Chicago to celebrate the end of the first year of SNI programming and kick-off the search for Year 2 participants. Applications are now available at www.iff.org/sni.

The intensive program includes three full-day workshops and additional one-on-one sessions on financial management; reviews of current facility plans and needs to determine the role that real estate can play in improving the financial health and strength of the nonprofit; capital access workshops to consider if debt can play a role in organizational development; assistance with any facility assessments, feasibility studies, site searches, or other initial real estate analysis that may be required; and below-market-rate financing for any resulting facility-related projects.

“Some people just think ‘finances are finances,’ but we have incredibly capable partners that are providing these services in a culturally competent way. They know it’s more about the why behind the what,” Lakes-Battle said. “Together we are changing the narrative. It’s no longer the story of ‘under,’ ‘dis,’ and ‘un’ – instead it’s about participating in change and taking time to invest in ourselves. We are a big, bold community.”

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