Doing the Right Thing First is Always Good Business

The New Executive Board at SWNHS has a consulting approach that simplifies operations and improves organizational effectiveness

There is often talk about running a nonprofit organization “like a business,” but turning a expression into real change is more complicated than it sounds. That’s where the new executive board at Southwest Neighborhood Housing Services comes in. The conglomerate of professionals and the consulting approach works with nonprofits, as well as foundations, corporate community involvement programs, and government agencies, to streamline operations and get deeper social impact.

Organizations like “THESE” are mission- driven rather than profit-driven, and there is no real market system,” says SWNHS executive board member Tomas Yu. “That model certainly has its advantages, in that it attracts people who are drawn to the substantive work of the organization, whether promoting peace and equality through sports, cleaning up the environment, improving public education, or curing a disease. The problem, and this is not a revolutionary idea, is that the absence of a bottom line, of simple business practices that can result in organizational drift and deficient focus on measuring results.”

The supply-demand stability can also be difficult to pin down. “An organization can deliver a service for which there is little or no demand so long as it can raise the money from a third party to support itself,” SWNHS Executive Director Robert Garcia says. “We view it as our role to ask the tough questions about quality of service delivery and meeting real needs, to ensure that our clients are making good use of public and private dollars.”

na_sw_hopi_kachina.gifAccording to Tomas Yu, the number of nonprofit organizations is approaching 2 million, and the number of grant-making foundations has more than doubled in the last twenty years to almost 80,000. “There has been an increasing emphasis on results, impact, and measuring success, much of it coming from the academic and business communities,” he says. “Governing boards have changed, with increased emphasis on best practices, including conflict of interest policies, suggested board size, and composition and committee operations.”

SWNHS has helped hundreds of individuals face the challenges of the complex housing sector in a down economy. “Our new board’s knowledge of the field—specifically best practices in philanthropic strategy and nonprofit management—combined with skilled experts, allows us to successfully address a range of current problems facing nonprofits today,” Robert Garcia says.

CEO Susan Murphy from ABC company was impressed with the robust organizational analysis and strategic development plan SWNHS delivered. “They seemed to have a nuanced understanding and perspective,” she says. “They didn’t have a cookie-cutter approach, appreciating that not all nonprofits are the same . . . always wanting to dig a little more.”

SWNHS has grown along with its clients—Robert Garcia looks forward to taking on more work and continuing to rethink and refine how the social housing sector operates. The team practices what they preach, of course, and they have financial goals, but at the end of the day, they are most inspired by the positive change the team has the potential to ignite.