News

November 2020—Impact In Action

Growing Up by Growing Out: How the Tia Foundation is Expanding Their Impact Through Collaboration.

Laura Libman was looking for a new mission. After a career in aerospace engineering, raising two kids, and finding a talent for solving problems for clients such as the Department of Defense and NASA, Laura wanted to try her hand at something different. She went back to graduate school for an M.B.A. in International Development to see where she could put her talents.  The whole time, she had a question rattling around in her head, “Can I figure out a way to fix poverty?” 

This question took her to Guadalajara where she spent three months doing community studies, learning about what situations send families into poverty. What she learned was whenever a family went from getting by to suddenly not doing well, 83% of the time it was due to a health-related incident. More importantly, the health-related incidents that sent families spiraling were preventable issues: women dying in childbirth, improperly given first aid, failures to diagnose diabetes, and other issues that seem foreign to many people in the U.S. The seeds of the Tia Foundation were born.

Fifteen years later, the Tia Foundation is a near-self-sustaining program, training entire communities in Mexico in preventative medicine techniques. For about $5 per person, the Tia Foundation is able to assist local governments in supplying and maintaining medical kits, including vaccinations, chronic disease management, child delivery and preventative education. By focusing on the data and asking the right questions, along with having a team heavily experienced in business management, international development and medicine, the Tia Foundation has been able to serve nearly half a million people. More amazingly, the work accomplished by the foundation helps communities become stronger—from trackable impacts like roads being rebuilt in the towns served, to a near 400% drop in immigration to the United States, to a recently discovered drop in domestic violence in a town The Tia Foundation serves.

Despite growing such a strong organization, and even stronger leadership team and board of directors, the Tia Foundation often found itself struggling to create a sustainable stream of funding, largely due to the lack of capacity-building funding for international organizations. Furthermore, after her time as a contractor, being a mother, and then 15 years of sleeping on dirt floors, Laura realized the importance of building a succession plan. Laura knew their administrative team, talented board, and deep bench of overflow contractors and consultants would be a boon to any partner. Yet providing medical services and training was not a replicable model in the U.S. But the mission of the Tia Foundation was not to provide health care, but to alleviate poverty. They just had to find the right partner to complete that mission back home. So, Laura and her team applied for a seed grant from Arizona Together for Impact, and they hired Kelly Fryer as a consultant to help them expand.

It was Kelly’s webinars that inspired Laura to start looking at how the Tia Foundation can find local partners, so by the time Kelly arrived as a consultant, she was more of a guide than a teacher.

“Kelly was huge in helping us get going, but so much of the main work has been internal,” said Matt Jewett, secretary for The Tia Foundation board of directors. Matt explained the key to their search has been trusting the process. With Kelly’s help, the core team and the board created an evaluation rubric—the factors each potential partner would be evaluated by—trusting that when you put numbers to what is important, a potential fit will naturally rise to the top. For Laura, having Kelly as a consultant and facilitator was at times secondary to simply having someone to bounce ideas off of.

“Even if each of us thinks we are rational and reasonable people, we need a third party to keep our hearts and heads in check,” Laura said. “Just having someone to validate that things are being done the right way, or that we aren’t missing anything major, has saved us hours and hours of time and frustration.”

Currently, the Tia Foundation is still in the exploratory phase of their partner search, but they are not rushing to the finish line. When asked what advice he would give other nonprofit leaders who are also looking for a partner, Matt said, “Be intentional and don’t expect an outcome. Look at it as a learning process.” Laura echoed that advice, “In the for-profit world, mergers and acquisitions can lead to a lot of money lost. That cannot happen in the non-profit space, there are too many people who will be devastated if a grant is lost, and we need to care for them.”

For the Tia Foundation, finding a partner does not mean finding another nonprofit focused on health care or exclusively the Hispanic community. For Laura and her team, the ideal partner would be a collaborator—a partner that would lean on the Tia Foundation’s administrative prowess and clear focus on poverty alleviation above all else. Until that impact-expanding partner is found, Laura and her board will trust the process.

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September 2020—Impact In Action

Mission: Critical 

Marcia Mintz knows a thing or two about the difficulty of making a nonprofit merger work. “You’d think nonprofits merge to save money. We’re doing this as a growth platform,” she said. For Marcia, CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley, that growth platform had only one focus: serving more kids.

Marcia had been with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Phoenix for a few years before the conversation of a merger arose. Yet this marked the third time Metro Phoenix and the Boys & Girls Clubs of the East Valley had explored joining forces.

What changed? “There was an appetite for partnership that didn’t exist before,” Marcia said, “and the reality was that if we can answer two questions consistently at every meeting, we have to move forward with this merger.” Those questions were, “Can we serve more kids? And can we serve them better?”

From the first exploratory session of the subgroups from both Metro Phoenix and East Valley in October 2018, those two questions began and ended each meeting. Fifteen months later in January 2020, the two Boys & Girls Clubs merged, creating one of the largest Boys & Girls Clubs in the United States. Now the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley (BGCAZ) serve more than 16,000 members across the Valley, with an additional 35,000 other youths in other clubs.

Despite both being Boys & Girls Clubs and having the same general mission, there were still plenty of challenges along the way.

“I had just as many moments of ‘I didn’t realize we were this aligned’ as I did moments of ‘I didn’t realize we did things so differently,’” said John Scola, senior vice president of advancement of BGC of the Valley. “While a lot of our programs are pretty much universal across every Boys & Girls Clubs in the country, the implementation may change from organization to organization.”

The differences between the two groups came down to culture and operations.

“We didn’t even realize the East Valley had a charter school until we started diving into the merger. And the East Valley didn’t know we had a dental clinic,” Marcia said. Several months into completing the merger, BGC of the Valley is still combining systems. For Marcia, that is secondary to making sure the two organizations blended culturally.
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” John said.

Making sure the two cultures melded required a lot of meetings with board members to alleviate their concerns.

“Board members take their positions very seriously when they are involved with nonprofits,” Marcia said. “It’s a good thing that they are so engaged, but they can also be over-protective.”

That’s why coming back to the central questions of “Can we serve more kids? Can we serve them better?” was so key for Marcia. It also took some incredible leadership from the merger design team and the invested board members to, in Marcia’s words, “make the personal case after the business and mission case. And be fearless.”

Both Marcia and John believe that fearlessness paid off. Despites COVID-19’s rip through Arizona only 74 days into their merger, the BGC of the Valley never had to close.

“The crisis allowed everyone to step up and create a unified culture. We consolidated to 10 sites, intentionally mixed our staffs, and became ‘we’,” Marcia explained. “Normally it takes two to three years to move a culture. We did it in four months.”

The future of BGC of the Valley is bright, and they hope to be an example for other nonprofits looking to combine forces.

John, who also teaches Fund Raising and Resource Development at the Watts College of Public Service & Community Solutions at Arizona State University, said “As a teacher, my students often come into class saying they want to start their own nonprofit. My goal is to convince my students otherwise, to find a way to take their skills to the 1.8 million nonprofits that already exist in the U.S. and help them.” For him, there is strength in collaboration that is streamlined for effective leadership. This targeted strategy ultimately wins the day.

For Marcia, that effective leadership occurs when everyone is involved, and everyone is in on the mission. Whether two nonprofits merge to save money or to grow in order to succeed, the mission is the most critical thing to get right.

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July 2020—Impact In Action

When in Doubt, Work Together

“Dan, why don’t we just integrate?”

For Deanna Bellinger, it was that simple of a question. As a grassroots organizer, Deanna was involved in establishing a number of non-profit organizations.  As a founder of Wellness Connections, and becoming the CEO in 2011, Deanna knew how to read industry trends, so she knew when it was time to adapt.

A trendsetter in his own right, Dan recognizes the importance of Peer-run recovery programs from his childhood experience in the State behavioral health system and now living 30 years clean and sober. “We used to be the token members, allowed to sit at the table but not speak. Then we were allowed to come to the table and speak then sit down,” Dan said. “Now, we speak and they can’t shut us up.”

Although Wellness Connections was nearly exclusive to rural Arizona and full of that frontier spirit while HOPE was much more focused on the cities, Dan and Deanna became fast friends and collaborators. They worked together on several projects and initiatives over the years, served on local and state-level committees, and frequently consulted each other.  When Deanna decided it was time to pursue Wellness Connections becoming a licensed care provider in 2015, Dan helped her navigate the process. When Dan needed a sounding board, Deanna reminded him to slow down.  “Historically, we worked well together, and It seemed like our organizations had so many areas of synergy,” said Deanna.

Over time, the number of reasons only grew as the two started to see more and more healthcare groups merge or get acquired. As Dan said, “I didn’t want to have to go through other people. Peer-runs have fought for access and authority, and suddenly it looked like we would no longer be Peer-run.” Deanna felt the same way: “This integration wasn’t a result of ‘have to’ but ‘want to.’ People in the community know of both of our groups, and this gives us an opportunity to be stronger.”

As of March 2020, HOPE Inc. and Wellness Connections achieved another first:  completing the first Peer-run integration the state has ever seen. “Getting acquired by a non-Peer-run entity would have changed who we are. So for us, this is a chance to say, ‘we’re still here,’” said Dan. HOPE has already seen the effects of the integration. From covering over 30,000 square miles to currently contracting with a majority of the Medicaid health care plans in the state, HOPE is able to offer greater access to resources to Members across the former organizations’ communities.  Wellness Connections continues to operate under its recognized brand in the communities it has served since 2002, but now as “a program of HOPE, Inc.”  Most importantly, the seamless integration created greater opportunities for members than ever before. Where much of the world feels isolated, HOPE’s telehealth program is there to keep Members engaged and on track, and their new reach allows them to offer a stronger continuity of care.

When asked what lessons they learned, Dan immediately said “be realistic on the time that this takes.” Integrations that are successful take time, there has to be transparency not just with each other’s Board of Directors, but with your staff. “Then, when issues do come up, you can have an open discussion about what needs to be done,” remarked Deanna. Dan added, “it’s too easy to create an ‘us versus them’ environment, but it’s an INTEGRATION, not an acquisition,” especially for two organizations that share such similar goals. Deanna commented, “And don’t dismiss the differences in the organizations.” The assistance of the Arizona Together for Impact Fund was key here in offering support for those next steps. When everyone is working hard on the mechanics of the integration it is easy to lose sight of how paramount it is to also thoughtfully manage the cultural differences between the two organizations. The same can be said for the legal side. “Organizations considering integration need to have good legal guidance throughout the process, and make sure you have the budget for it,” said Dan.

“It’s a constant process,” stated Deanna. But after making their careers out of being first, Dan and Deanna are ready for that process. They know that together, they can achieve an economy of scale that not only lets them grow, but lets them keep their mission: to offer dignity and respect to their members, to remain Peer-run and peer-led, and to empower their Members through empathy and care.

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April 2020—Impact In Action

Collaboration in the Time of COVID

Improving access to the arts and art education has never been just a hope or dream of Leah Fregulia. It’s been her passion, her career, and her constant goal. As a founding faculty member of the Arizona School of the Arts, as well as the CEO and Head of School for over a decade, Leah has seen a lot of growth in the artistic community of Phoenix. Yet she continued to ask how she and ASA could do more, and in 2015 she was awarded a Piper Fellowship to spend a year answering that question.

Leah learned that ASA could have a much greater impact by becoming a leader in the community. She didn’t want to simply replicate the school, she wanted to bring in other organizations and nonprofits to create a collective to share resources, space, and staff. Leah found six other groups that believed in the same mission she did: “a commitment to quality art, diversity in artistic offerings, and putting the youth voice in the center of the work.”

The group chose the name The Phoenix Youth Arts Collective, and while they had the idea, they did not know how to take the next step. Leah and PYAC applied for a grant from Arizona Together for Impact to match the capacity-building grant from the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, and with these grants they were able to retain Tiffanie and her team. That’s when they met Dr. Tiffanie Dillard, Founder and CEO of Avenir Consulting Partners, who helped them navigate next steps.

“The earliest struggle is always ‘where is it you’re trying to go?’,” Tiffanie outlined, “not simply, ‘we think we’re going North’ but ‘we’re going to Flagstaff on Thursday, here’s where we need to get gas, and so on.”

Tiffanie first met with PYAC for a “deep discovery workshop” to help the group decipher key goals and metrics of success. From that workshop, PYAC created their guiding visual – the group’s compass to remind themselves that regardless of every other overthought detail or discussion, these were the core ideals to come back to.

Today, a little over three months into their year-long exploratory process, PYAC is no longer stuck on the question of “what do we want to accomplish?” Instead, they are actively working towards organizing how they can share their resources, utilize their spaces, and continue serving the youth.

When asked about how PYAC is handling the COVID-19 crisis this early in its foundation, Leah responded that “this hasn’t changed our goals. We have always been focused on the needs of our students. This has simply shifted our thinking, but it’s not an obstacle.” Just a few weeks ago the group started working on an Asset Map, a spreadsheet of every class offering, workspace, and resource each group had. “It felt heavy and awkward,” explained Tiffanie, “but after COVID, it instantly became an active discussion of what one group could share and what the others needed.”

Both Leah and Tiffanie also said that their best piece of advice is getting a professional guide and not being afraid to test a sustained collaboration before committing to it. “This is not a marriage and then you get counseling,” Leah described it as, “this is where we are exploring and deciding if we’ll get engaged.”

In closing, Leah explained, “The sense of excitement about what it means collaborate, and the synergy and innovation that emerges from that, is the most exciting work we’ve been doing.” Having the adequate time to understand what every member of the collective can bring to the table and having the support to truly test whether the sustained collaboration works has been a massive opportunity for PYAC. And while ASA’s campus might be quiet right now, the bustle of activity for Leah, Tiffanie, and PYAC is only growing and will lead to a more sustainable future for every organization involved.

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March 2020—Impact In Action

Kate became the executive director of Waste Not in April 2018. At the time, the organization was a bit fragile and in need of not only a financial restructuring, but an entire infrastructure overhaul. As she was making her rounds as the new ED, she found a kindred spirit in Dave Richins, the CEO of United Food Bank. Like Kate, Dave was somewhat new in his role as CEO and he was incredibly excited about the mission.

“There was a great staff that wanted to do great work… but we were struggling with our cash flow,” Dave said.

So, when Kate mentioned that Waste Not was also looking to lower their operating costs and looking for a partner, the two started seeing a way to fix their financial burdens through collaboration. When Kate and Dave started exploring the partnership with their respective boards, Waste Not’s board echoed Kate’s biggest concern: protecting Waste Not’s brand. “Waste Not has been at this mission for over 30 years,” Kate said, explaining Waste Not’s success. “We’re the only one that serves that niche, no one is doing what we’re doing.”

Dave and the board of United Food Bank similarly wanted to ensure that Waste Not was able not only to keep its brand, but for the two organizations to start going after new opportunities that neither could win before, such as Feeding America’s MealConnectTM platform. Described aptly as “Tinder + Uber for food recovery,” the platform was a dream tool for United Food Bank and Waste Not. “We couldn’t compete for the grant without Waste Not, and Waste Not didn’t have the backing at the time,” Dave said.

So when the organizations officially came together, they “applied for it before the ink was dry on our partnership.” However, as both Kate and Dave noted, it wasn’t all rainbows and flowers. Any time two groups of such radically different sizes come together, growing pains are inevitable.

“Exploring the merger is great,” Dave said, “but there is considerable time and expense before, during, and after the transition period.”

The integration of UFB and Waste Not took place prior to the launch of Arizona Together for Impact and did not have access to the resources Together for Impact now offers. “Looking back,” said Kate, “I would have taken it slower and involved a consultant… I would have paid a lot more attention to culture as well as strategy.”

Dave echoed that idea, but added that “part of the charm was making the mistakes along the way… We had to own the outcomes that come from hard work. If you develop the muscles while you garden, you’re going to make sure it’s watered.”

While it’s only been a few months since they entered the formal affiliate partnership, both Kate and Dave are already seeing the results. Both organizations have righted their financial picture, are operating stronger, improving their standards and finding new ways to collaborate.

When asked about what advice they would give other nonprofit leaders considering a permanent collaboration, Kate said, “approach this as a strategy for growth for your organization… don’t wait until there is an emergency.”

Both Kate and Dave spoke to the need to “grow the pot together.” “To me, my competition is McDonalds, it’s Gucci, it’s Volkswagen,” Dave said. “We’re competing against companies who have millions in marketing budgets to fight for the consumer’s dollars. We’re just asking for a small donation.”

To Kate and Dave, the best way to succeed in the missions of their nonprofits is through collaboration. “Until nonprofits understand that we are all in this together, finding ways to lower cost and do better, we won’t succeed.” Kate, of the same mind, said that she “feels like these partnerships are the future of nonprofits. Through this, we can utilize the donated dollar a lot more effectively” than constantly fighting for it.

While the two organizations are still working through their growing pains, both are incredibly excited about the future. And, the next time Waste Not gets an alert from MealConnectTM or takes on a challenge as big as the Waste Management Open, they won’t have to scramble for extra support. Instead, they can lean on their partner, United Food Bank.

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February 2020—Impact In Action

Since he started as the first executive director of ONE two years ago, Michael Barry was focused on one thing: creating value for his members.

“From the very beginning of my tenure in early 2018, the board and I were particularly interested in ensuring that everything we did at ONE was focused on making it easier and more efficient for our members to access our services,” Barry said.

To Barry, this meant ensuring that they were not only increasing internal efficiency and operations but aligning with others in the community in similar practices to avoid unnecessary duplication. In doing so, ONE began a relationship with the Alliance for Arizona Nonprofits, finding that by working together they were able to fill the gaps in each other’s community outreach.

Last month, with funding from the Arizona Together for Impact Fund, ONE has officially become a program of the Alliance.

“The opportunity to be ‘stronger together’ was too good to pass up, and [it] has made our ability to strengthen and unite the nonprofit community that much better,” Alliance CEO Kristen Merrifield said.

The integration offers exactly what Barry wanted to bring to the nonprofit community: a collective focus, which provides ONE members greater access to programs and services. As a result of the integration, both organizations will be able to leverage economies of scale, relieving ONE from the constant pursuit of funding and providing the Alliance the ability to recruit Michael—an experienced resource with a background in marketing and business development—to their team.

Along with the business efficiencies, ONE and the Alliance are able to build programming specifically targeted to the C-suites in the nonprofit sector, something the Alliance did not have before. Under the umbrella of the Alliance, the two groups have hit the ground running, offering a variety of positive operational, financial and community outcomes by being wider reaching and more coordinated than ever before. For both groups, the integration is a step forward to create a variety of positive operational, financial and community outcomes. They can reach a broader audience than either could before, taking advantage of their respective strengths, experiences and members and giving themselves the opportunity to grow together instead of simply alongside each other.

“The focus of our discussions about the future are now more about the ‘how’ rather than the ‘if’,” Barry said.

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Impact in Action

On the north side of Tucson is the strikingly beautiful Jewish Community Center, known these days as “the J.” Closer to downtown is the smaller, brilliant yellow building that houses Arts for All.

Although miles apart, these two thriving nonprofits are about to become partners in an integration that, although it had a few hitches, has overall been a smooth, friendly, mission-oriented merger that will lift both organizations onto a higher and more sustainable path.

HOW DID THEY DO IT?

According to Marcia Berger, she started by “shopping around.”

To tell the story, Marcia takes us back more than 30-years to a time when children in her neighborhood were dejected because they had no place to go and nothing to do after school. Marcia invited them into her home for a dance class, and Arts for All (as it eventually became known) was born. Through the years, supported by a series of very fortunate events, the nonprofit has expanded its scope to include arts classes for able and differently-abled children and adults.

Two years ago, Marcia was approaching her seventies and increasingly aware that working 60+ hours each week no longer made sense. What’s more, she believed the organization she built deserved to live far beyond her. With renewed emphasis on creating a succession plan, she launched what she calls her “listening tour.”

Over the course of the next 24 months, Marcia met for coffee or lunch with her own board members and with everyone she could find – in the Tucson area and nationally – who had been involved in a merger, consulted on a merger or had an opinion on the matter. During the course of that process, Marcia and “the J” found each other.

THE PROCESS

Todd Rockoff, CEO of the Tucson Jewish Community Center said, “It became so evident that we shared the same mission and values. It made sense to continue on that path and to see what was possible.”

The J already had a substantial adult day care program that began around ten years ago. It started small, but has grown to accommodate 45 clients. It still has a waiting list, making Arts for All and its potential for additional capacity especially attractive.

Detailed meetings are underway, both Boards have approved the action, with a final deal is expected in the first quarter of 2020. When asked if the process was difficult, Todd was quick to say, “No! Everyone has been working towards the same thing. Sure, we hit small speedbumps, but it was amazing to see everyone work through them respectfully and with a deep sense of collaboration.” Once their work is complete, Arts for All will become a set of programs contained within the greater JCC umbrella.

And while “merger” may be the technically correct term to describe the way Arts for All and the J are joining forces, both Marcia and Todd are quick to point out that’s not how they think about it. They prefer “integration.” Marcia said, “Merger sounds hostile and both parties lose some of who they are. ‘Integration’ respects the power of both organizations and honors what they’ve accomplished. You don’t lose who you are.”

“What matters most,” she added, “Is that we found a partner who values what we do. That’s really important to us.”

ADVICE

Both Todd and Marcia offer similar advice: work far in advance and take your time.

Todd suggested, “I wouldn’t sprint to the end of the road. Instead, get to know each other, ensure there is a good fit and that shared set of values.” Marcia also counsels openness and patience. “We need to be there for each other and support the other’s mission. Be open and realize we’re better together.”

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