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Title Page: Applying Innovative Techniques to the Housing Sector of Nonprofit Organizations Anne Zabala University of Idaho
The ways in which nonprofit organizations are working to accomplish their mission statements is a topic of great interest in the not-for-profit sector. There have been questions whether the techniques used by nonprofit organizations are beneficial to the overall goal of the organization. The research presented here indicates that the importance of looking to a community to understand the issues it faces and working in partnership with the people you aim to serve to create sustainable change cannot be understated. An interview was conducted with Steve Hellner-Burris about the strategies the nonprofit Rebuilding Together is using to accomplish its established mission in Pittsburgh, PA. The findings indicate that to prevent gentrification and to enable homeowners to maintain their houses and therefore keep them in the community, there are specific measures an organization must take. As a result, practices that involve working directly with a community have been shown to be highly successful.
Nonprofit organization; gentrification; displacement; methods; strategy; successful practices; effective technique;
Determining successful practices in the nonprofit sector is a difficult task to undergo; it is a measure of accomplishment that many experts in the field have sought to define . Measuring success is a complex problem deserving of an answer that delves beyond the surface value of a nonprofit organization and is something that cannot be measured in the simple way profit can. This paper aims to evaluate innovative practices in the non-profit sector, specifically those being used in nonprofits dedicated to making progress in issues surrounding housing. This research is directed at evaluating the success of certain organizational practices. Once this has been evaluated, further research will be conducted that aims to seek how these practices can be implemented by other organizations. The questions I pose are ones that have been brought up by researchers and nonprofits alike in trying to assess strategy and program development. I plan to use this previously conducted research to better understand the ways in which nonprofits function and the motivations for current strategies. I will use this data and build upon it with supplemental information that gets to the root of my research, examining the motives and methods of housing-based nonprofits. With my work, I am attempting to achieve a better understanding of the term success in the nonprofit world; debunking the traditional idea of what a noteworthy non-profit is and providing examples of successfully established practices. Ernesto Sirolli’s TED talk titled Want to Help Someone? Shut Up and Listen! illustrates the importance of looking to a community for an insider perspective on an issue. Sirolli discusses how many well-intentioned people attempt to bring change to a community by projecting an outsider’s opinion of what a community
Zabala 3 needs. This is a key criterion that has been reaffirmed as the first step in seeking to accomplish social service. When most well-intentioned aid workers hear of a problem they think they can fix, they go to work. This, Ernesto Sirolli suggests, is naïve. In this funny and impassioned talk, he proposes that the first step is to listen to the people you're trying to help, and tap into their own entrepreneurial spirit. Sirolli not only advises listening to the people you’re trying to help, he speaks about entrepreneurial spirit. His suggestion speaks to asking about the dreams of the people you want to help. Sirolli highlights the importance of listen to people and building upon the passions they hold. As outlined in Nolan, Goodstein, and Goodstein’s book Applied Strategic Planning, there are very basic outlines for creating a mission statement of any kind that speak to the what, who, and how of the statement. Applied Strategic Planning covers three main points: “what” needs the organization is attempting to fill, not what services are offered; “who” the organization’s primary “customers” are; and “how” the organization plans to go about its business. My paper aims to look beyond these more basic outlines and evaluate the causation for the creation of an organization and therefore its mission statement, yet these general rules are the standard for my research to build upon. New product development practices are discussed An Exploratory Investigation of NPD Practices in Nonprofit Organizations focuses on how nonprofit organizations are using new product development (NPD) practices and typically for-profit strategies to drive success. Of the six dimensions of NPD efforts identified in Barczak, Kahn, and Moss’s work, one is program development, an element that is unique to nonprofit organizations. This research speaks to intangible components, the components I seek to identify: The intangible components pertain to elements such as these courses, program promotion, instructor certification, and generation of public goodwill; the tangible components include course videos, brochures, and informational packets that are distributed or shown to program participants and instructors. Each component must be carefully composed and delivered under the American Red Cross brand and must embody the American Red Cross brand identity Sawhill and Williamson’s book titled Mission Impossible?: Measuring Success in Nonprofit Organizations is notable research in the field. One key component of the business model continues to elude nonprofits: they have been unable to duplicate the crisp, straightforward way that businesses measure their performance. This speaks to a frequently brought up problem facing nonprofits in that measuring success is frankly quite difficult. Because my research is focused on the work being done in Pittsburgh, I looked to find reports about the problems specific to that city. Neil Smith’s book The New Urban Frontier details gentrification in urban areas, a major problem facing the
Zabala 4 people of Pittsburgh. Smith compares current problems of gentrification to how pioneers displaced Native Americans. Native Americans were othered and not thought of as people. This is happening to the poor people in urban areas who are being forced to leave their communities because they are not given value. Smith discusses urban renewal and how many cities don’t make provisions for the poor and instead try to drive them away. The New Urban Frontier demonstrates how serious of a problem gentrification is in urban communities. The report aims to elaborate on the problems facing Pittsburgh and advance the ongoing conversation about successful nonprofit methods and strategies. I intend to create a conversation about reviewing standard procedure with my research. These types of policy change must occur for continual progress to be made and for nonprofits to evolve. The final section of this report discusses how current NGO’s dedicated to improving communities through home improvement might work to introduce new strategies for creating overall positive change. By examining intended positive change, nonprofits can gain new perspective and improve efforts overall. In the end, more will be known about what works, what doesn’t, and why this is.
To better comprehend the motivations behind certain nonprofit strategies, to gain knowledge about practices that have succeeded and others that haven’t, and to develop insight into new techniques I conducted an interview with Steve HellnerBurris, the Appointed Executive Director of Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh’s executive board. Steve Hellner-Burris is responsible for: fund development, management of daily operations; staff oversight and development; and supporting the Board in their effort to grow the organization’s programs and scope of services and has twenty-four years of nonprofit experience. I outlined interview questions regarding his experience in the nonprofit sector and what he has found to be successful and unsuccessful ways of approaching service work. Hellner-Burris provided insight into how Rebuilding Together is run and why the organization has chosen to conduct itself in the fashion it has. He also talked about the inventive ways that Rebuilding Together is working to go beyond fixing homes and how their approaches can be applied the nonprofit sector as a whole. My first interview question for Hellner-Burris was what his branch, Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh, saw as the need in the community. This question was asked to establish motives behind Rebuilding Together’s work there and largely the motives that guide nonprofit organizations focused on providing housing or home repair. Secondly I posed the question, “What are the issues the people you work to serve facing?” This question provides exigency for why Rebuilding Together is working in Pittsburgh. It is also important to inquire into how the organization distinguished need there. The following questions proceeded as follows: How does your organization work to
Zabala 5 promote positive change outside of improving homes? What else does Rebuilding Together do to promote the community? What role does fundraising and acquiring grants play in the success of Rebuilding Together? How does Rebuilding Together’s work leave a lasting impact on the community and change in people’s lives? You have had over two decades of work in the not-for-profit sector and you have worked for other housing-based organizations. How do you believe Rebuilding Together’s current and developing programs could be used as a model for other housing-based nonprofit organizations? I chose to follow this line of questioning to establish what Hellner-Burris and Rebuilding Together: Pittsburgh are doing specifically to accomplish the organization’s mission.
Results show that the majority of nonprofit work being done to improve houses is not necessarily doing anything beyond this and that this work should not be an organization’s main aim. Below is the list of questions asked in my interview with Steve Hellner-Burris and his recorded responses: Q: What was the need Rebuilding Together: Pittsburgh identified within the community? A: There is a process known as gentrification that has pushed many people out of the city into neighboring burrows. Gentrification occurs when an area goes under development occurs because the cost of living rises. The prices of homes rise and consequently property taxes rise as well. Because these people cannot afford to stay where they are after development occurs, they are pushed out of their homes and the area. The poor that are being affected have nowhere to go and are being displaced in large numbers. As development continues to expand, the people that have previously been forced out of an area are again pushed further out. The places that these people are forced to relocate to are essentially slumbs and provide little means for people to access basic things like food. We work to keep people in their homes and to strengthen existing communities. Q:What are the issues facing the people you work to serve? The people we work with live in poverty. Those who do own homes in these communities cannot afford the repairs necessary to continue living there. Development worsens this problem as the cost of living in the area increases. A large majority of the homes in the areas we work in are vacant. Because of this, there is little incentive for people to stay. Q: How do you work to promote positive change outside of improving homes? A: Yes, we do improve homes, but it is not that simple. One big push we have worked for is to focus our efforts into very concentrated areas. The reason for this is that the change it creates is more tangible and we have seen it create movement within a
Zabala 6 community. We are not working to fix a house here and a house there. We are fixing several houses on one block and following this with by doing the same thing on another very close block of houses. This creates a ripple effect in the area we work in. We improve one house on a block. Neighbors see this and are inspired to do what they can to improve their own home or seek assistance from Rebuilding Together. We have seen that our work often has an effect not only on the home we are working on but also in those living near the house we work on . As opposed to doing work on a string of homes all over town, concentrating in one area creates a more measurable impact. Q: What else does Rebuilding Together do to promote the community? A: We also always make sure to support local business by buying everything from our supplies to food for volunteers locally. We have created meaningful ties to the community this way and are working to promote the success of local businesspeople. We also do our best to make it known that we encourage volunteering. We do not ever want someone to feel obligated to do so, but we talk to the community about how easy it is should they ever choose to do so. We are working heavily to further develop the program we instituted that teaches skills like carpentry and plumbing. We currently only teach these skills through informal apprenticeships and aren’t yet able to give anyone the certification necessary for anyone to go out and work professionally. This is an element of the work we do that we believe will be incredibly beneficial when it is fully up and running. Rebuilding Together: Pittsburgh has several employees on staff that are capable of teaching these skills, but we need to set up a way for people to become accredited. We believe the work we do should come full circle. We want to help people stay in their homes, encourage them to volunteer and become part of the solution, and teach valuable skills that people can use to find employment. Q: How does Rebuilding Together’s work leave a lasting impact on the community and change in people’s lives? Our goal is to keep people in Hazelwood and Wilkinsburg. We want to prevent gentrification by keeping people in their homes and cultivating a sense of community. That sense of community, the feeling that people have ties here and a desire to stay, that is what we work for.
The research I conducted in my interview indicated that there are standard practices that many nonprofits adhere to and that Rebuilding Together was once no exception to this standard. In recent years, with the help of trial-and-error and the research that has proven the success of certain practices, the nonprofit has developed innovative techniques that are improving the ways they are working to accomplish their mission.
Zabala 7 Hellner-Burris discussed working with the community for the community by first identifying homeowners that wished to undergo home improvements that would keep them in their houses because they want to stay in the area they live in. One element of Rebuilding Together’s success comes from looking at the problems facing Pittsburgh and inquiring about what the people there need. Gentrification and displacement issues were identified and from there the nonprofit was able to develop a sense of purpose and specific causation for work. Once these problems were identified, Rebuilding Together looked to the community for solutions. Pinpointed as key to service in Sirolli’s work [ ], this is essential in working to serve. The importance of this research is that the standard approach to fix issues surrounding gentrification, displacement, and lack of accessible housing could be greatly improved. Rebuilding Together is one example of an organization employing certain methods that create measurable progress and could well be the standard for organizations to strive for and build upon. Implications of my study indicate that there are several key factors critical to improving a community beyond improving the homes found there. These ideas have been explored, but there is still much work to be done in the housing sector and the ways nonprofits are improving the current situation. There are organizations dedicated to providing housing and to making improvements to people’s homes that cannot afford it, but new ways of looking at how to expand on this work must be examined. Rebuilding Together is innovative in that they are going about a few things quite differently. In Wilkinsburg and Hazelwood need has been established. This need has been explicitly identified by the community and not projected on the people there. Gentrification is a major problem in Pittsburgh and displacement is a common theme in many other large urban areas. Those at Rebuilding Together entered the community and spoke to those that live there and researched the difficulties being experienced. This is evidence of the established practice that mandates an outside organization understand a problem using insider perspective. Furthermore, to make progress in an area undergoing gentrification, those that already have a stronghold in the community through homeownership must have the sufficient capacity to stay there. Homeowners who are unable to have the necessary repairs completed to stay need to be assisted so that they are not forced to move. This has been shown to maintain a strong community presence and increase community pride. When working to improve homes, there should be a specific method for choosing homes based on both the qualifications of the homeowners and the location of the home. Rebuilding Together has chosen to work exclusively on homes that are owned opposed to homes that are rented. This is a poignant choice aimed at keeping people that are already actively involved community members to stay in the community. This strategy serves to improve the current strengths of a community,
Zabala 8 an aim that in Rebuilding Together’s case worked better than attempting to build a sense of community where there was previously was none. There is also a benefit in choosing homes that are concentrated in a specific area. In Hazelwood and Wilkinsburg this created an epicenter of growth that radiated to the surrounding areas and because the effect was more tangible, created more noticeable inspiration within the communities. To further create positive change, my research shows that an organization can go beyond providing service. This empowers people to a certain extent, but does not allow them a way to become involved in the service they benefit from. Rebuilding Together did this by creating a means to volunteer and encouraging people to do so. This allows people an avenue to feel that they didn’t benefit from charity but are instead part of highly valuable work they have seen the benefits of. Developing this concept further, Rebuilding Together is developing programs that enable people to learn valuable skills during the volunteer process. There are many valuable trade skills involved in home improvement and Rebuilding Together has employed trained professionals to repair homes as well as assist in teaching people new skills. Ideally this would provide a means for a person to learn a trade and find future employment.. This program is in its infancy and is one that deserves future observation. Whereas some organizations focus primarily on home improvements, there is a way to do this in a new way that does more to serve a community. Rebuilding Together is pioneering a different way to structure a nonprofit organization. These practices should be further examined and looked at by other nonprofit organizations. I recommend that future research also be done into skilled-training programs like the one designed by Rebuilding Together.
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