Community Initiatives CEO, Theresa Fay-Bustillos reflects on her first year at the helm.
It has been just over a year since I joined Community Initiatives (CI) as CEO, and what a year it has been! Last month we closed out FY15 and our board approved the budget and plan for FY16, so now is the perfect time to reflect on the growth we have seen at CI in my first year. Rather than conducting our 18-month strategic planning process in a vacuum, CI has taken an iterative approach to ensure that evolving project needs are met along the way. Some changes were so clearly necessary that it made sense to implement them immediately while continuing our deep dives to understand the economics of our business model, satisfaction by projects with our services and how we deliver them, and comparing ourselves to best practices. Below is a summary of our most significant renovations in the past year.
Launching New Program Services Model
Early in our strategic planning process we realized that each of our staff had a hand in delivering services to 100 projects. After benchmarking other leading fiscal sponsors, we shifted to a Program Services Model in which each project has a dedicated project specialist. We beta tested this approach with a handful of projects so we could work out the kinks, and rolled it out to our entire network in April. It took five months of careful planning in which each specialist participated in a 16-module training program we developed that covered everything from legal review of contracts to conducting site visits and transitioning from responding to partnering with projects. We also created new position descriptions and processes which laid the ground-work for growing our three-person Program Services Team to a team of five–four specialists managed by one director. Bottom line: Now projects have one person at CI whose job it is to focus on making sure project needs are met. Read more about our shift to the Program Services Model.
Providing New Online Fundraising Platform
We heard loud and clear that our projects were dissatisfied with our previous fundraising platform for individual donations, Network for Good, and opting to use 15 different platforms with varying degrees of satisfaction and access to data. After an extensive review, it was clear that no existing online fundraising platform could comprehensively meet the needs of our fiscally sponsored projects, particularly for immediate access to information about donations and the latest crowd-funding techniques. As a result, we made an investment with WeDidIt to modify their platform so that it would meet our community’s needs completely. Now all projects have access to one of the most state-of-the-art online fundraising platforms on the market; with real-time access to their accounts and performance metrics; and a rapidly growing library of educational videos and blogs. Read our full announcement of our partnership with WeDidIt.
Developing New Policies
As employment and non-profit finance laws change, it is critical that we provide the resources our projects need to maintain compliance with laws. In the summer, projects routinely bring-on new volunteers, interns and fellows, so we knew we needed to ensure that for this year’s activities we provide new tools and resources to meet increasing regulations and oversight. Based on the practices of projects, we developed a Volunteer, Intern and Fellow Policy with various templates the projects can use for each, even translating the volunteer templates into Spanish. We have also developed several other policies from the use of credit cards to a policy that responds to the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014. All of the new policies are now available on our project login page under policies and the specialists have been trained on each to provide customized options. Click here to see all the developed policies.
Adding New Services: Strategic Planning and Social Media
Serving approximately 100 projects every day, CI is well positioned to observe challenges and solutions common to our network. It has become clear that projects would benefit from additional support in two high impact areas: strategic planning and social media. Many projects need support as they seek to grow or expand or go through leadership changes—strategic planning is helping these projects plan for the future by fully understanding historical financial and fundraising patterns, current and projected resources, options for the future, and a plan and timeline to achieve goals. Projects are also thinly staffed and time-starved and social media provides instant access to a network through which they can share, promote and celebrate successes. Nearly 1/3 of our projects have accessed the new services already, and we are seeing the interest grow every month. Read more about our service expansions and don’t hesitate to contact your specialist to sign up.
Launching Project Priorities, CI’s Newsletter
During a review of how we communicate with projects, we realized that we didn’t know much about our effectiveness. To improve our outreach and communications, we launched a newsletter, Project Priorities. Projects can now expect a single monthly newsletter that summarizes priority updates, provides monthly tips, and fundraising and employment opportunities. Archived editions of Project Priorities are available on our website, and anyone can sign up!
Projects tell us that they would like to hear more about what their peers in the Community Initiatives network are doing. As a result, we launched a monthly “Featured Project” initiative. Once every month, a new project is featured on our homepage and in Project Priorities. We select projects that have an event or some initiative to feature and use social media posts to raise visibility and awareness.
Expanding Project Login Site
Knowing that projects want information at their fingertips, we made several upgrades to our website. On our homepage, projects can now see our monthly Featured Project, our latest blog post, and the latest updates we shared on Twitter and Facebook. We also upgraded the project site with new resources and information so projects can easily look up their specialist; find and download policies and forms; and access webinars and announcements.
Building the CI Team
A transitional year like this can be hard on any nonprofit staff. It requires a lot of hard work, focus, and ability to balance a number of competing high priority demands. We have a number of veterans on our team, and many new faces that joined this past year. They have quickly come together to share deep institutional knowledge to keep the work flowing while questioning business as usual and thinking of ways to improve and be more effective. We have made a concerted effort to ensure that every member of our team, new and old, feels supported through this process. We have revised our internal performance planning and evaluation systems and team members have received more professional development this year than in the past.
We also want our team to have a little fun! Twice this year we have taken our team on out-of-the-office excursions that promote camaraderie and team cohesion. We prepared holiday meals at Glide Memorial Church in December and kicked-back to have some fun at a summertime Giants game. We regularly celebrate individual birthdays and milestones with treats and cards in the office.
When I take a step back to look at all that we have accomplished this year, it’s pretty amazing. I deeply appreciate the commitment and flexibility of our team and the wonderful projects we have the privilege of serving. We also appreciate everyone’s patience as we work out the kinks in all of our new systems. Come January, our strategic planning process will conclude and we will be moving forward on upgrading more new systems to be better than ever!