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Innovation in the Nonprofit Sector

November 15, 2019

The Child Center of NY serves more than 35,000 kids annually across more than 100 programs in 60-plus locations. With five key lines of business, this New York City nonprofit has vast reach—filling in gaps with essential services in underserved communities. 

The organization is reliant on government contracts that may ebb and flow seasonally. Connect asked CEO Traci Donnelly and CFO Steve Donowitz how a nonprofit with such a depth of services and broad range of communities served continues to innovate. 

Connect: How has the organization grown since you joined in 2014? 

Donnelly: The business has changed significantly in regards to infrastructure. When we started as a child counseling center, we had a very small staff. Since then we’ve grown—in fact, we’ve doubled in size. We made it a point to build out systems and processes and move to an electronic format for tracking. We manage everything with KPIs and analytics dashboards. 

As a nonprofit, how do you align your business goals with changes in funding?

Donnelly: Managing a nonprofit is still managing a business. When there are deficits in funding, we determine if there are other programs we can supplement that align with our mission. Similarly, we can divest in a program when it’s not functioning correctly and wrap existing services around kids and families. When we divest in programming, it’s actually a commitment to the mission so we remain in business and find new ways to serve our communities.

How do you creatively manage working in such a highly regulated environment? 

Donowitz: Part of it is just good business practice. We both bring decades of experience in the industry, and it’s becoming more and more regulated and necessitating these efficiencies. Other organizations have challenges meeting regulations. Beyond the regulations, however, you need to have systems and processes in place as well as people to run the business efficiently. You need to be able to monitor, manage, and track your business to ensure each line of business is running effectively.

How are you adapting to trends in your business? 

Donowitz: It’s hard to predict trends in our industry because we’re driven by government funding that could be changed by every election, local or federal. We are able to withstand changes because we’re diverse in our service delivery. While funding for certain lines of business may fluctuate, we’re able to adapt fairly nimbly in those areas. 

Donnelly: We have the ability to pivot quickly and make changes with minimal disruption. We’re always asking how to innovate and not lose a line of business we may have lost funding for. As we move toward a value-based payment world, we try to forecast so we can be prepared to shift if needed. We couldn’t have done that without the infrastructure we put in place.