Funder aims to spur shared services

Community Catalyst Fund
Community Catalyst Fund

Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For six of the 10 agencies it houses in its 100,000-square-foot building, providing space, shared space and technology, the Child and Family Service Center also provides financial services and human resources.

Because the center can offer those six agencies a group rate, they were able to save their employees $400 per person each year in the cost of their benefits packages.

Now, thanks to a $50,000 grant from the Community Catalyst Fund, a fund created at Foundation for the Carolinas to make grants to spur efficiency, effectiveness and innovation at nonprofits, the Child and Family Service Center will test the feasibility of expanding its shared human-resources services to other nonprofits.

By providing what are known as “shared services” to a group of agencies, the Center is “able to provide a higher level of service, increase capacity and decrease cost for individual nonprofits,” says Peggy Eagan, the group’s executive director.

Foundation for the Carolinas, which raised $3.5 million for the Catalyst Fund, has distributed roughly $2 million.

One grant, for example, supported a merger of the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte with Charlotte Emergency Housing, while another supported the merger of Youth Homes with the Children’s Home Society of North Carolina.

And a third helped nine Habitat for Humanity affiliates in two counties assess the possible need for sharing services, such as for joint purchasing, for technology and for risk-management practices.

After receiving joint grant requests from groups of two to three agencies each in response to its launch of a grants program to support shares-services initiatives, the Community Catalyst Fund decided to think bigger, says Holly Welch Stubbing, senior vice president for client services and legislative affairs at Foundation for the Carolinas.

Based on its own survey of local nonprofits, and on the work of Tides, a San Francisco-based nonprofit consultant it hired, a Catalyst Fund task force committee considering options for a “management service organization” found that local nonprofits’ most-viable options for shared services focused on human resources and technology training.

Without a human-relations staff person, for example, “many nonprofit are struggling to meet all the requirements on risk management, recruiting and talent development,” Stubbing says.

In December, the committee overseeing the Catalyst Fund approved grants of $50,000 for the Child and Family Service Center, and $264,800 for NPower Charlotte Region.

NPower, a nonprofit that provides technology training and consulting for nonprofits, also serves under contract as the information-technology department for about 30 local nonprofits, including Foundation for the Carolinas.

It will use the funds to address nonprofits’ training needs and help build their capacity and innovation through the use of technology, with volunteers from corporate information-technology departments providing some of that training and capacity-building work, says Chris Meade, executive director.

The effort, he says, will engage existing tech know-how, help NPower expand its capacity-building work and create a sustainable way of boosting local nonprofits.

Stubbing says the Catalyst Fund is hopeful its shared-services effort will “spur additional innovations and efficiencies in the sector.”

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