Imagine if your nonprofit could have an extra $12,000 per month. What would you do with the extra cash – Give raises to your staff? Put it in the bank? Expand programs? Address long-awaited repairs? After refinancing its mortgage with IFF last year, these were very real questions for the Centers for New Horizons (CNH) – a nonprofit that touches more than 1,000 clients daily through early childhood education, workforce development, and youth programs in Chicago’s Bronzeville and Riverdale neighborhoods.
“For us, as a nonprofit, the refinance gave us a significant amount of relief,” said CNH Executive Director Christa Hamilton. “We were able to pay off a line of credit. We are no longer operating every month payroll to payroll. We went from operating at a slight deficit to having an actual surplus – giving us the freedom to do additional programming or put the money into an operating reserve.”
The $2.5 million refinance was made possible through IFF’s innovative New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC) Small Project Loan Fund, which brings the benefits of NMTC financing to smaller nonprofit projects. The 7-year, interest-only payments enabled the large monthly savings.
But that’s just one part of the IFF-CNH story that includes not just loans and tax credits, but also real estate consulting, technical assistance training, and real friendships.
“This is what we exist to do,” said Kirby Burkholder, President of IFF’s Social Impact Accelerator. “We have discrete products that help people in discrete ways. But when multiple products come together, it’s a really powerful combination. We don’t just provide loans and advice; we help people plan for their organization’s future.”
CNH recently participated in the first-ever IFF-administered Stronger Nonprofits Initiative, a program designed to help Chicago nonprofits – specifically those serving communities of color on the south and west sides – learn how to become financially stronger, build net assets, and succeed on their own terms. The program is sponsored by JPMorgan Chase and administered in partnership with FMA.
Hamilton is no stranger to solving tough financial challenges. CNH has been operating in the community for more than 40 years, but when she took the reins in 2014, the organization had been operating ‘in the red’ for several years. The deficits were due primarily to government funding challenges, regulatory changes, and lag time on reimbursement programs.
“I was more than willing to take on the challenge of ensuring Centers’ legacy would live on,” Hamilton said. “I had a passion for it – I loved the organization, I loved the community, and I really cared about the people we served.”
Today CNH has been operating in the black for three years, and its budget has grown from $8.5 million to $12 million – with lots of plans for the future.
“Through the Stronger Nonprofits Initiative, we were connected to IFF’s real estate consulting team. They’ve been phenomenal at breaking down what needs to be done, long-term, at all of our properties – facility planning, financial planning, programmatic planning,” Hamilton said.
That real estate planning has been especially important at Elam House, an historic landmark building that CNH was entrusted with in the late 1980s. The building caught fire on the same night as its grand opening celebration in 1995, and it’s been a mid-block eyesore ever since. A big part of CNH’s new five-year strategic plan is figuring out how to get that building operational.
IFF’s real estate team is working with CNH to assess the facility and determine the costs and timelines for transforming it for different uses. According to Hamilton, CNH is leaning toward making it permanent supportive housing for single mothers – in accordance with the Elam House Trust’s mandate that the structure be used to support women and children.
“With our expertise in early childhood education, we would want to put some level of child care support in the building so mothers could go to school or go to work and have some stable and comfortable child care,” Hamilton said. “We’re also considering some kind of wellness component. The building is 10,000 square feet, so there’s a lot of space to do programming and have the supportive housing component.”
IFF also provided a $500,000 loan that will cover some predevelopment work on Elam House, as well as minor repairs on other buildings and an affordable line of credit for the organization.
“IFF over the last year has been super supportive of the transitions we are making at the organization,” Hamilton said. “Everyone at IFF seems to make a really intentional effort to making sure we really understand the implications of every option.”
Hamilton is especially grateful to IFF’s Victoria Lakes-Battle, Executive Director for the Chicago Region, who Hamilton calls her “nonprofit fairy godmother.” CNH honored Lakes-Battle as its Community Partner of the Year at its annual fundraiser on May 23.
“She became a mentor for me. I thought I was special, but I meet people all the time who know her and speak so highly of her commitment to the community,” Hamilton said. “To her, it’s not just a banking deal. It’s not just about helping us refinance. It’s very personal to her – you can tell she is really committed to the success of Centers and to all the nonprofits in the City of Chicago.”
Lakes-Battle and other IFF leaders have a long history in the Bronzeville community, where IFF has helped finance cornerstone projects over the last decade – Oakwood Shores Senior Center, Arts and Recreation Center at Ellis Park, Mariano’s grocery store, and about a dozen nonprofit projects – all with input from the community.