Monday, December 22, 2008

On non-profit management

Something that I've been wrestling with for the past couple of days is what to think regarding Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless. The organization's problems are many, and, as Debi Starnes told Fresh Loaf, they're all largely their own doing ...

“The culture of that agency and its management of that building is not one that helps people escape homelessness,” says Starnes, who retired her Council seat three years ago and now serves as Mayor Shirley Franklin’s homeless czar.

“What’s going on in that building is abysmal and shouldn’t be accepted,” she adds. “The city should be ashamed for having allowed it to go on for so long.”

The problem, though, seems to be what MATFH is ultimately aiming to achieve. If it's primarily functioning as an overnight shelter, then it's going to largely be addressing the needs of chronically homeless individuals which requires a radically different approach than what is needed at the Athens Area Homeless Shelter or IHN of Athens which provides assistance and support to temporarily homeless individuals.

An organization that attempts to serve both is often biting off more than it can chew. Organizations like IHN of Athens or AAHS typically serve one classification of homeless individuals, while others, such as Bigger Vision of Athens, work with chronically homeless individuals.

But, aside from a confused mission, MATFH has larger managerial issues. It's burned bridges with the community. It's squandered public funds. It has a low success rate. It has paid payroll taxes in three of the past six years. It pays its executive director a disproportionate amount of money compared to its existing financial situation. It relies on too few funders, thus increasing the likelihood of a severe fiscal crisis should said funds vanish.

I mention this because one has to wonder, with all of the problems surrounding East Athens Development Corporation and the Hancock Corridor Development Corporation, is this the path those organizations were on? Is it the one they're still on?

Granted EADC and HCDC serve substantially different populations, but the structural and managerial woes evident with MATFH seem somewhat similar to the complaints levied publically by Athens-Clarke County elected officials and privately by many in the non-profit field. And it's why I hope those two organizations have detailed how they'll utilize Community Development Block Grant funds in a more efficient and effective way because, arguably, the programs they have proposed are laudable ones.

The problem, as MATFH has shown, isn't the intent, but the execution.


Blogger jmSnowden said...

I think pretty much every non-profit should have the same type of deep diving metrics to show actual impact in the way that business account for things like cost of sales, charge offs, etc.

Too often, organizations eschew stating clear goals and then measuring progress and instead present a feel good-(don't take our money away) report to stakeholders once the the goals have been adjusted to fit the successes.

I have hopes for EADC and HCDC. But I feel their lot is much like the Big three. No matter what they say their plan is, their past will have too many people not trusting them. Other non-profits should start stating goals upfront, showing gains and owing up to losses before they are next on the block.

9:07 AM  

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