Forbes recently asked several experts for their thoughts on the biggest myths about nonprofit organizations, and many of them struck a chord with us here at Save the Family. To read the original article, click here. To read how each of these myths as identified by Forbes resonates with our work to end family homelessness, see below.
Nonprofits Aren’t Entrepreneurs
The founders of Save the Family came from the business sector: men and women with successful careers, rooted in their community, and troubled by the striking number of homeless families living on the streets in the late 1980s. Together, they formed Save the Family, incorporated, and began housing vulnerable families. Today, that spirit of caring, innovation, and creativity to meet community challenges lives on.
When COVID-19 hit and businesses began shutting their doors, furloughing workers or laying off employees, Save the Family ramped up to meet the increased need for help – serving nearly 20% more families in 2020 than originally projected. We shifted operations to be COVID-safe and formed new partnerships with local schools, businesses, the faith-based community, and other nonprofits in order to meet critical and emerging needs related to family homelessness and poverty across the Valley.
But even before the pandemic, Save the Family celebrated and continued what our founders set out to do through entrepreneurship and innovation. In 2017, Save the Family partnered with the City of Tempe, Gorman & Company and others to build the first women veteran focused affordable housing project in the country. And in 2019, Save the Family launched “Step Up to Independence,” a new housing program working closely with Mesa Public Schools that identifies and supports homeless families on the brink of living on the streets or in shelters and intervenes before the children experience the trauma of sleeping on the streets. How’s that for entrepreneurial?
Nonprofit Work is Easy!
Truthfully, nonprofit work is far from easy. At Save the Family, we meet families during a period of major crisis and instability, during what many describe as the worst time in their lives. And while the work is challenging and sometimes heartbreaking, it’s a labor of love. The staff at Save the Family are dedicated to lifting families out of poverty and homelessness. They love the families we serve and we will do almost anything to ensure they get a fair shake at a fresh start.
Easy? No. Worth it? Absolutely.
Passion and Vision = Success
There are so many moving parts to operating a successful nonprofit organization, but you can be assured that passion and vision are two of them. Thankfully, the Save the Family board, leadership and staff bring passion and vision in spades. They also bring business acumen, high standards for professionalism and transparency, fundraising expertise, and decades-long experience in delivering life-saving, transformative programming to families living in poverty and experiencing homelessness.
Even with all that, we know there’s so much more to running a successful nonprofit. At Save the Family, we are grateful to have many of the components: dedicated, generous donors who believe in our work as well as governmental agency partnerships to address the looming housing crisis. But perhaps most importantly, the families who come through our programs exhibit a relentless drive to succeed and create a better life for their children. These factors joining together ensure success.
Nonprofits Should Limit Expenses
We pride ourselves on our low administrative rate, where nearly 80% of every dollar that is donated to Save the Family goes directly to housing, case management and direct assistance for homeless and impoverished families and children.
The work we do at Save the Family is charitable, yes, but at the same time and in many ways, we operate just like any other business. Housing more than 600 families each year requires administrative infrastructure and a professional team. These are worthwhile expenses. To learn more about how Save the Family’s administrative rate measures up to other nonprofits, please visit our Charity Navigator profile, where we’ve earned their highest ratings for transparency and effectiveness.
(Government) Grants Are Enough
Save the Family receives approximately 35% of its funding from government grants. These grants are only PART of the support we must raise to serve families in need. Through our advocacy, collaboration and strong community presence, we leverage government support with support from many individuals, businesses, churches, clubs, corporate grants and private foundation to serve families in need.
If we operated on government grants alone, instead of serving nearly 600 families last year, we would have only been able to serve half of that – about 300 or so. It takes many donations – big and small, private and public, monetary and in-kind – to help families move from homelessness and poverty to safe and stable housing and financial self-sufficiency. To read more about our variety of supporters, check out our latest Impact Report.
Nonprofit Leadership is Lacking
Our community is filled with hundreds of amazing and well-run non-profits. Anyone who meets Save the Family’s executive staff has this myth for lackluster leadership dashed immediately. Save the Family’s CEO Jacki Taylor is an accomplished leader with a distinguished academic and professional background. Our senior leadership team is similarly well qualified. To read about Save the Family’s leadership, visit our website.
In addition to our staff leaders, we have an incredible, diverse board of directors with outstanding professional, leadership, and lived experience. To see a list of our board of directors and their affiliations, visit us online.
Nonprofit Employees as Martyrs
Nonprofit employees are some of the best employees around; they’re typically passionate, empathetic and willing to give of themselves every day to make the world a better place. At Save the Family, our employees are our best and most valuable asset. Many of our staff have worked for Save the Family for longer than 10 years.
Employees give a lot to Save the Family, but they don’t give their lives! Leadership at Save the Family work hard to ensure that staff feel safe and valued. Our leadership doesn’t ask anything of a staff member that they wouldn’t be willing to do themselves. And the rewards for our work are so much greater than the costs. Saving the lives of children and families in our community – providing housing and supportive services to families experiencing homelessness and hopelessness – is not for the faint of heart. Nevertheless, we love it, and we gladly give our time and talents to ensure the next generation of children in our community have stable housing and a chance at a better life.
Pay Should Be Low
No, it shouldn’t. Forbes agrees!
In order to attract and retain top employees, the compensation package for employees should be competitive. Save the Family recruits the best and the brightest, and salaries and benefits are designed to motivate and retain them. Our staff are professional and experienced, and have the heart to match. They deserve to earn a living wage (and more!). Decent pay is a reflection of our values, too, as an organization focused on helping parents secure jobs that pay a living wage. We are grateful for our sound leadership and generous contributors that allow Save the Family to pay staff fairly.
There’s an older model of nonprofit evaluation that held overhead (or administrative) costs to a strict 20%. Anything above 20% was perceived as too much, wasteful. While our overhead costs are low, we recognize that every nonprofit organization is different, and there is no “one size fits all” for costs of running an organization.
Just as every family that walks through our doors has unique challenges, traumas and victories, every nonprofit serves a unique function to support the community’s needs. With this in mind, overhead rates might vary year to year or program to program. Save the Family maximizes every dollar to ensure we make the best use of resources, eliminate waste by sharing our own resources, experience, meeting space and much more with partner agencies in our community to ensure our community’s collective resources are being used to their fullest. To learn more about Save the Family’s revenues and expenditures, review our latest Impact Report.
Nonprofits as Less “Business-y” than For-Profits
In some ways, Save the Family is less like a business and more like a family. Our family is made up not only of the families who come to us for help, but of staff who work tirelessly every day, donors who bring their hard earned resources to support our work, and a board of directors who give of their time, treasure and talents to grow the organization’s reach and service to our community. Genuine love and concern for every person in our Save the Family “family” is woven through our mission and is at the center of our work.
On the flip side, however, Save the Family operates much like a business. Like successful businesses, we adhere to best practices in all areas – accounting, management, human resources, training, professionalism, safety and more. Our staff are held accountable for their work just as any other business requires. Despite the charitable nature of our work, Save the Family is a streamlined business operation, and we are proud of the ways we contribute to the business community in the Valley of the Sun through our purchasing power, partnerships, volunteerism and shared goal toward a thriving and robust community
Cash Donations as the Only Way to Help
The final myth is one we at Save the Family encounter all the time. Often people want to help but they don’t think they have enough money to make a difference. The reality is that everyone has something to give – whether it is through their time, talent, or treasure.
You can give of your time by volunteering. You can give of your talent by sharing your resume writing tips with our job seeking parents, your best recipes with the moms wanting to learn how to prepare tasty meals on a budget, or your love of quilting by creating beautiful blankets for our children. You can give of your treasure by making a donation to Save the Family. Each is an incredible opportunity to help us meet the growing needs of homeless families, and all are valuable. We need you!
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