(John Orr, Center for Religion and Civic Culture, University of Southern California, 2004)
A large, socially active African-American congregation has formed an economic development corporation whose mission is to infuse new economic energy into the area’s low income neighborhoods. The corporation’s signature program, which enjoys a well-deserved national reputation, focuses on entrepreneur training—the empowerment of “creative and driven entrepreneurs.”
Thus, it is not surprising that this group’s welfare-to-work program also adopts an entrepreneurial management style to implement its publicly-funded job training and job placement activities—activities that are directed toward the region’s hardest-to-employ welfare recipients. “We run our program as if we were entrepreneurs,” one of the welfare-to-work staff members reported. “That’s what I like. I know what I have to do….” When you are clear about your management style, she suggested, you have a solid framework for making day-to-day decisions. You know the spirit in which you should be addressing problems and considering opportunities
Here are some elements in the welfare-to-work program’s entrepreneurial management style:
- Getting more out of a dollar. When hardest-to-employ welfare recipients—especially women--began to confront time limits, program administrators knew that they had to expand their outreach. Unless they took on the challenge of serving additional people in this group, many would be pushed into the streets. But administrators quickly discovered that the state’s financial climate made it virtually impossible to raise the program’s funding level. With static resources but an expanded client base, “we just started stretching the dollar,” explained a staffer. “We were funded…something like $700 a client….But we stretched the dollar.”
To do so, the organization turned to other public and private agencies for pro bono services. For example, the organization decided that it would use other agencies to provide support services that otherwise would be provided in-house, such as family violence intervention, English-as-a-Second-Language, and transportation. This strategy greatly increased the program’s resources and reduced the number of services that individual staff members were providing for each participant.
Nonetheless, the program’s staff ultimately had to confront the fact that it could “stretch the dollar” only so far. The staff discovered, for example, that it could make its $700-per-client allocation work for four clients, but no more. “We had to turn a lot of people away because we just could not serve them,” the program director said. “But we didn’t turn them away empty-handed. We contacted other agencies that we knew had funding for similar programs. We sent [participants] there….We even gave them a transportation allotment to get there. In some cases, we drove them there. And we did what we had to do because, to be quite frank, even when you stretch a dollar, there’s only so far you can stretch it.”
- Using marketing strategies. Drawing on techniques taught in an entrepreneurship program that is conducted by the program’s congregational sponsor, the welfare-to-work program devises marketing strategies that are directed toward its own population of participants, potential participants, corporations who will serve as employers, and other public and private human service agencies. Each of these markets requires a different approach, administrators believe. Some, for example, may be efficiently reached through the use of the region’s media, including neighborhood newspapers, radio stations, and public service television programming. Others may require labor-intense sales relationships, for example, “selling” corporations on the value of employing welfare-to-work participants and assuring them that the program will stand behind its graduates. Collaborating agencies may require collegial telephone and e-mail conversations that nurture trusting day-to-day relationships. Above all, strategies should be based on clarity concerning what it is that the program wants and/or needs in its relationships with various markets. The program should be clear about the content of its messages that are directed to each of the populations it targets.
· Working with a results-oriented mentality. The welfare-to-work program enthusiastically embraces performance-based objectives and the utilization of performance indicators. Many of these indicators are specified in the contract the program has negotiated with its sponsoring public agency. Program staff collect data related to these indicators. These include such things as: numbers of participants; numbers of referrals to other agencies; numbers and kinds of services provided to participants by staff members; numbers of job placements achieved; numbers of post-employment contacts with participants and employers; data related to the longevity of participants’ employment; numbers of cooperating agencies; and numbers of cooperating corporations. The program matches these objectives and indicators to its mission statement. Members of the staff use these data to formulate changes in the program’s services and strategies. The emphasis is on hitting the targets, rather than on process.
· Assuring the availability of services that are required to fulfill the program’s mission. Participants often require specialized support services that the program is not prepared to offer. To meet this need, administrators have created a network of cooperating public and private agencies. Transportation services, for instance, are provided when participants encounter barriers.
· Encouraging a problem-solving culture within the program’s staff. The program encourages participants and staff members to identify problems and to suggest possible solutions. Staff meetings are designed to nurture a problem-solving culture. Strategic changes are often formulated from the bottom up. “We trust our staff people to tell us what the problems are,” a program administrator observed. “In a lot of cases, they have good ideas about what the solutions should be. We should pay attention.” On one occasion, for example, a staff member reported that participants often did not show up at other social service agencies to which they had been referred. “It’s a big problem,” she argued. “And we sometimes don’t realize what’s going on.” After a lengthy discussion, the staff decided to be more aggressive in offering transportation services. It would also see how far it could go in providing “desks” on its own premises for other agencies to provide services.
The staff of the welfare-to-work program clearly has concluded that it does not have to choose between an entrepreneurial business style and a faith-centered style. Program administrators, in fact, say that their clients, cooperating corporations, and cooperating public and private agencies trust them mainly because their program’s strategies embody their church’s faith vision.
If you are interested in adopting an entrepreneurial management style, here are some first steps:
· Clearly identify the “business” you are in. Clarify your mission, and then create indicators that will help you know whether or not you are succeeding. Adopt a bottom line mentality. Be sure that you are getting the most for your dollar in accomplishing your mission. For help, go to http://home.americanexpress.com/home/mt_personal.shtml.
· Decide how your program’s faith-orientation will be expressed in and through your services. Don’t leave this policy to chance or to moment-to-moment decisions by staff members. If your program is funded by a government agency, take into account regulations related to how faith may be expressed in the program and by staff in working with participants. In this area as well, develop indicators that will help you know whether or not your faith-orientation policy is being implemented.
· Within your mission, be clear about the services that your organization can offer. If you need more services than your organization alone can offer to achieve your goals, aggressively create a network of partners whose organizational goals overlap yours. Be relentless in maintaining communication with these partners.
· Employ staff members who are talented and imaginative. Encourage them to be problem-solvers and to envision new possibilities for your enterprise. Make sure that staff meetings are structured to allow leadership to emerge, for example by encouraging staff to develop solutions to challenges the program is facing.
· Create a marketing plan that concretely guides how you will reach out to potential participants, to cooperating public and private agencies, and to your own sponsoring organization. Be disciplined in implementing this plan. Be willing to change directions when it is clear that your plan is not working.
Remember that you are not turning your back on your faith commitments when you decide to adopt an entrepreneurial management style. Faith and entrepreneurial management styles can complement each other.
This is part of a series of Thumbnail Case Studies authored by the FASTEN research team and released by Baylor University School of Social Work as part of a 30-month research project funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. This project is designed to identify the factors that contribute to the effectiveness of faith-based organizations (FBOs) in addressing problems of urban poverty. Baylor is leading this project with researchers from Baylor University’s business school, the schools of social work at the University of Pittsburgh and Virginia Commonwealth University, and the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at the University of Southern California.
A team of researchers from these four universities have interviewed various stakeholders from fifteen (15) promising faith-based programs in four United States cities. This ends the data collection portion of Phase I of a grounded theory research project in which participants, board members, administrators, program coordinators, and collaborators in these fifteen programs have been interviewed face-to-face.
The findings of this first phase will be the foundation for a quantitative national survey designed to determine the extent to which the grounded theory that emerges in the project’s first phase can be applied nationally across the diversity of faith-based social services in the United States. Sagamore Institute’s Faith in Communities program and the Center for Faith and Service of the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC), Baylor’s partners in this project, are disseminating the findings of this research through the creation of the Faith & Service Technical Education Network (FASTEN).
This essay represents some of the findings from the FASTEN research project that are relevant to the planning and delivery of services by faith-based organizations. The piece was authored by John Orr (with the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at the University of Southern California) with the FASTEN Research Team. He can be reached at email@example.com.