By Azuka Nzegwu (March 8, 2006)

Overview of Management and Strategy Issues

The Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), formerly known as the Rheedlen Centers for Children and Families was facing problems with management and strategy. Started in 1979 by Richard Murphy to help truants in Manhattan’s upper west side community, the organization also had a range of programs to address disadvantaged populations such as the elderly and the homeless. During the 1990s, the Harlem’s Children’s Zone was growing rapidly under a dynamic leader, Geoffrey Canada. Because of the growth, the organization needed to evaluate their programs and determine where their efforts should be concentrated to reap the most social investment. As the organization grew, the need of evaluating and identifying the strengths became crucial, as well as sustaining that organizational growth. The management and strategy issue the organization faced, which plagues other nonprofits is effective resource allocation in mission-critical program. Second, organizations that do not have a mechanism of evaluating the programs cannot determine their effectiveness or if the programs are producing results that will further the organization’s mission. The inability to demonstrate their commitment to their mission will make it difficult to secure future funding. If organizations, such as HCZ with an ambitious goal of educating every poor child in a 64-block area in Harlem are to achieve their goals, they need to understand their long-term plan and to be able to inform funders as to how they are meeting their milestone if they want to receive funding to continue to grow. These are some of the problems Harlem Children’s Zone faced. Essentially, the organization needed a way to effectively manage their operations, secure long-term funding, evaluate their programs, and meet their intended impact.

Bridgespan Approach and Application

The Edna McConnell Clark foundation, which funded HCZ’s programs, proposed to Canada to test their new approach to grant-giving. As a result of this partnership, the foundation enlisted the help of Bridgespan Group, a national consulting firm that work with nonprofit to assist HCZ and other grantees to define their approaches, programs and evaluation. Part of this relationship was based on the idea of theory of change, which analyzes the organization to help it understand its mission, and to support programs that will maximize their impact.

Why was this approach recommended?

The theory of change was instrumental to the re-organization of Harlem Children’s Zone. This approach was recommended because Bridgespan believed that in order for an organization to grow and sustain its growth, it needed to evaluate its operations, services, programs, and most important, its mission. For an organization like HCZ that have seen rapid growth, HCZ needed to examine their programs to determine which ones were delivering results, and which ones were not crucial to their mission. Bridgespan analyzed the performance of all of HCZ programs, their desired or intended impact, the cost of program operations, and the organization structure to facilitate its growth. Part of running a successful venture is to be able to clearly understand and articulate the mission and how the organization will implement the strategies necessary for long-term growth and viability. Doing the analysis will enable HCZ to effectively manage its operation and its infrastructure.

What is the value to Harlem Children’s Zone?

Since theory of change was at the heart of this approach, the value it had on Harlem Children’s Zone was that it enabled the organization to understand its mission and consolidate their services. Part of this value is developing a business plan along with financial projections and milestones. In some ways, the organization is not only accountable to the funders, the Edna McConnell Clark foundation, which demanded rapid growth for their support, but HCZ needed to continuously re-evaluate their programs. Since many nonprofits do not have a business plan, the relationship HCZ has with the foundation enabled it to use the resources of consultants to develop a business plan tailored to meet their objectives. This is very important because HCZ can assess the strength and weakness of their program, and can also see which areas need attention. For HCZ, the business plan became a guideline to the operation of the organization. In addition, the plan is helping the organization allocate their resources in an effective manner while improving the management and organizational components of the organization.

Does it have limitations?

As with any new changes, there are limitations. For example, the organization will only be able to support programs that have demonstrated HCZ commitment to its mission. The only concern is that other programs, which may have a positive affect may not be developed or supported. As a result, only certain programs, as in the case of Harlem Children’s Zone, early intervention programs geared to youth development are supported. There is a strong emphasis on younger children although the organization has programs for older children and those in K-12. HCZ’s early intervention is very important as younger children who have not fully developed cannot make decisions and therefore, will be heavily influenced. Hence, providing programs that will safeguard these poor children from the social disadvantages they face will ensure they become successful adults. And if those children veered off during their teenage years, it will be much easier to reach them as oppose to those teenagers who were never exposed to early intervention programs.

How does your reading inform your analysis?

The readings were informative because it provided a basis for understanding some of the fundamental issues nonprofit organizations are facing. Being able to understand the perspectives of Edna McConnell Clark foundation was quite helpful in illustrating the ways foundation play a critical role in re-shaping non-profit organization. It is also important to examine other case studies and speak with practitioners in the field. The challenges HCZ faced and how it restructured the operations to grow, attract long-term funding, and evaluate their programs for effectiveness is quite remarkable.

Recommendation of Service

After analyzing all the materials, I would recommend that the coalition use the findings to help its members better manage, plan, and evaluate their programs. For example, it is important for the coalition to use some of the principles that Bridgespan used in the preliminary gathering of evaluating past and current initiatives, and determining programs that the organization can use to maximize their investment. My only concern is finding a better way to integrate the voices of executive director, program managers, and the practitioners in developing a unique model that will work with the specific need of organizations. Instead of depending on funding agencies to help determine the course, the organization should use their own expertise in assessing program’s success and evaluating the direction of the long-term viability of the organization.

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