It’s been a while since I’ve penned a blog for NEW. That was on purpose. Blogs are just one of the ways we share our perspectives and work as we strive to influence radical transformation. By having other NEW team members contribute, we rebuff the single-leader, single-voice paradigm. It also helps me and others balance capacity. Sharing this space is one way for me to share and cede power with my dear colleagues – people who inspire me daily. This is especially true since so much of my focus this last year has been on the NEW Center Transformation. (And dammit, we’re gonna make it happen, together!).
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading their posts as much as I have. Recently, Terri McKinnon, Director of IT Managed Services, wrote an inspiring piece featuring our client, Green Door Initiative. Check it out.
I’m back to writing just a couple of days into my first 2-month sabbatical*. I’m in a remote location, and am so grateful for the quiet in my mind and in this place. It allows this reflection to come through. Now is the perfect time to reflect on the journey we’ve been on over the past twelve (12) months – in peace and done preparing for this break.
Like many of you, June marks the end of our fiscal year. For NEW, May and June are seasons of deep planning and budgeting. Our days and calendars are full as we assess our mission and margin impact. This includes a week-long All-Staff Summit in May, when we pause operations to connect, reflect and plan for the year ahead. We then finalize our budget in June (yay, the board and staff approved it!) before a brief respite as the new year begins in July.
We used to try to do all of this and still run the business. I stopped that a couple of years ago, resisting grind culture and the idea that we can do fifty-eleven things at once and be effective. We can’t. It’s a bit of a whirlwind, but so worth it, because it allows us to enter our new fiscal year with clarity and purpose. By July, we’ve set program and financial plans, and our team and individual goals. Then, we put all of that into an operational dashboard to guide us and to help us learn along the way. (Huge kudos to Carrie Hammerman who leads us through this process).
Similar to the last few years, this has been a year filled with challenges, triumphs, joys and most importantly, profound impact. Join me as we take a moment to look back at our achievements, lessons learned, and the inspiring people who have made it all possible.
A More Just and Thriving Society:
At the core of NEW’s success lies our unwavering commitment to our mission. Every day we set out to create positive change in southeast Michigan, and we can proudly say that we have made significant strides. Champions for Change is in-person again after two years on Zoom and outside. We even made it back to historic Idlewild, MI for our cohort reteat! Linda Tam, Chief Financial and Operations Officer, has led the team through an inclusive budgeting process (inspired by our friends at Zingerman’s). Our Director of Financial Services, Allison Morris, and their team have grown our fiscal sponsorship and bookkeeping practice significantly. What started as a pilot program five (5) years ago is a flourishing practice today. Here, we’re proud to serve organizations like Mentor 2 Youth in Ypsilanti, MI and the Detroit Phoenix Center, among others. And our collaboration in the Transforming Solidarity Collective led to the launch of the Rest and Liberation Initiative. We actually contributed to the design of a sabbatical program serving Black and Brown leaders of small nonprofits. In so many ways, we have witnessed firsthand the transformative power of our work.
“Thanks for an empowering and exciting meeting this morning. I appreciate your trust and support. I was glad to hear your enthusiasm around the Michigan Learning Channel LABS program, and I mentioned the ways that it is inspired by the learning communities that NEW has been growing over the past few years. This idea that an organization can do the “day job” of operations, funding, etc AND find creative ways to bring people together, create spaces for learning and growth, and uplift folks who are doing their own impressive work has been working extremely well in Washtenaw County, and I think is a model that could be super powerful for the educational system in our immediate community and across the state if we can use the Michigan Learning Channel to facilitate and convene effectively. We (I especially) have a ton that we can learn from Yodit and NEW’s vision and work to center community and learning.
– Champions for Change Alum, M. Hamilton
Photo credit: Val Waller
Empowered Leaders, Organizations and Communities:
We believe in work that exudes joy, builds power, and makes social change work irresistible. We achieve this through liberatory values, including the practice of radical compassion and humility. We work from a grounded understanding of power. We invite accountability, act with rigor, and speak with clarity. Problems and contradictions within our sector and work are met with curiosity instead of judgment and finger-pointing. Harm is addressed with seriousness and focuses on reparation, remediation, and healing. And we are building power together, allowing our successes and failures to catalyze innovation.
We have gotten here by practicing intentional growth, our theme for the upcoming year. We believe what we pay attention to grows. Attention is the way humans bring water and sunlight to our seeds of ideas, concerns, relationships, and to our transformation. Staying true to our commitment to justice emboldens us. We’re pursuing abundant, unrestricted, multi-year funding that supports our programs and operations. We’re taking the same approach to transform our physical space, becoming accessible to all who want to work with us. We’re also unapologetically continuing fee-for-service programs. Diverse revenue is vital to meeting our mission, too. Yet, we resist extractive capitalism, while acknowledging that it is the economic system we’re in. We know there are ways we can model compassion within it as we seek alternatives. Until then, we remain courageous in transforming our relationships with philanthropy and wealth. We insist on moving resources – financial and others – into communities that have experienced the downstream effects of racism and other forms of oppression. Doing this earns us the trust and respect of donors and community.
We believe that transformative change is achieved by working hand-in-hand with the communities we’re in and those we serve. Whether with grassroots initiative or other values-aligned organizations, we’re investing in relationships. We’re fostering collaboration and creating platforms for communities to take charge of their own destinies. And I’m excited for what’s ahead!
Photo credit: Val Waller
Flourishing As An Organization:
Reflecting on this year’s milestones fills us with immense pride. Here are a few highlights:
- We implemented a Flexible Time Off program that allows NEW staff to take unlimited time off to care for themselves and their families. We set a minimum of three weeks, which ensures our team members are using the time in practice, and not just in theory.;
- We instituted an annual cost of living increase for all staff. It’s allocated through an equity lens, which disrupts a model that paid out more to those at the top of the pay scale;
- We crafted our Emergency Succession Plan to guide NEW in the event of a planned or unplanned departure of the CEO. Here, we named co-directors to lead, as opposed to only one person. This sets in motion our plans to restructure NEW to a more distributed leadership model;
- We formed a Community Advisory Council to inform the strategic direction of the organization. This group – led by Carrie Hammerman, Chief Strategy and Programs Officer – consists of leaders who represent the communities we aim to serve;
- We hired JFM Consulting to lead our 3-year Growth and Strategy Planning process;
- We secured six hundred fifty thousand dollars ($650K) from the state to launch our building transformation. The NEW Center will become a community hub that honors the histories of our neighborhood. It will become a ‘tent’ for nonprofits and other social change leaders to #transformthefuturetogether;
- We launched a Community Giving Campaign that honors the legacy of collective giving and mutual aid. As we pursue our fifteen million dollar ($15M) fundraising goal for the transformation project, we invite gifts of whatever size you’re able! #bettertogether
- We learned new ways to navigate generative conflict thanks to sessions led by Carly Friedrich, our Programs Manager. Carly is wrapping up her Master’s in Restorative Practices and Conflict Resolution – we’re so grateful she’s sharing those skills with our team!
Despite “post-Covid” sentiments (it ain’t over, y’all) and drops in racial justice giving by philanthropy:
- Our earned income was 4% better than budgeted (compared with 11% in the prior year).
- We were able to shift some funding around internally to ensure our programs persisted.
- Expenses – including bonuses for our hardworking team, totaling $22,500 – are forecast to be 2% better than budgeted (compared with 9% in the prior year).
- We continued to benefit from multi-year funding from Ralph C Wilson Jr Foundation and W.K. Kellogg Foundation
- We kept 3+ months of cash on hand most of the year
These accomplishments validate our dedication and serve as testaments to the hard work and support of our team, board, and funding partners.
Photo credit: Doug Coombe
Faces of Change:
Behind every accomplishment are our team members and the people who believe in us and our work. While many of you may know me by name, there are twenty four (24) of us on this team making the work possible. I honor them and I want you to as well. Resist the tendency to think of NEW as Yodit – it’s not.
None of work is possible without faith. We see it in the hundreds of folks attending Centering Justice (soon to be a podcast on all streaming sites!). In the return of hugs and smiling faces at the dozens of in-person events we hosted this year. And in our determined board and committees who help us steward our bold mission. YOU, have faith in us. And you inspire us every day.
We are grateful for the opportunity to be a catalyst for growth and to witness the transformative power of our collective efforts.
Throughout our journey, we have encountered obstacles that have pushed us to grow and evolve. We have learned that to thrive, NEW and other nonprofits need: (1) support that enables us to flourish, not just sustain; (2) opportunities for learning, (3) strong relationships, and (4) influence. Our focus on Intentional Growth helps us to balance the ongoing shifts in philanthropy and the sector broadly. Other lessons include:
- We’re still emerging from Covid and need time (at least another year) to assess implications on NEW, our clients and sector;
- We must intentionally regain traction in earned revenue as funding for racial justice, government subsidies and ARPA dollars contract and impact us and our clients;
- We’re budgeting earned revenue conservatively to prevent reliving past mistakes – like those from the 2008 downturn – that adversely impacted our team and clients;
- Foundation funding priorities are trending toward program-specific restrictions as opposed to general operating funds;
- Hybrid/remote work environments create increased demand for security technology, AI and IT infrastructure;
- Cost of living fluctuations are trending downward. Despite this, our sector – NEW included – must prioritize employee attraction and recruitment;
- Professional development for staff must be planned with dollars AND hours;
- There is less demand for traditional long-term tenant suites to support nonprofit workers and orgs, this supports our suppositions about the NEW Center Transformation;
- We were spot on to begin measuring our impact in recent years. Our theory of change is a vital grounding document for how we must work for the foreseeable future;
- Designing ‘with, not for’ our community must be an enduring practice.
Achieving a just and thriving society requires addressing structural racism in all its forms—policies, institutions, and culture. We name racism and other forms of oppression as root causes for why our sector exists. Yet, we can advance proactive and long-lasting solutions for equity and justice by using our collective power. We’re here to shift the dominant narrative and to make more space for new ways of leading, being and working.
These insights will undoubtedly shape our future endeavors, enabling us to become even more effective agents of change.
Gratitude and Acknowledgments:
None of our accomplishments would have been possible without the unwavering support of our team, volunteers, donors, and community partners. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to every person who has contributed their time, expertise, resources, or advocacy to further our work. Together, we have created a powerful force for change, and we look forward to continuing this journey with all of you.
As we close the chapter on another remarkable year, we’re filled with a renewed sense of purpose and determination. Our journey has been characterized by resilience, passion, and the unyielding belief in the transformative power of collective action. As we enter the new year, we remain committed to pursuing our mission with even greater dedication, creativity, and impact.
Together, we will continue to create positive change and build a brighter future for all. Thank you for being part of our journey.
With hopeful optimism,
*This opportunity to step away from NEW and the rigor of the last 3.5 years is right on time. It’s a gift from the folks at the McGregor Fund, a longtime funder of NEW. This sabbatical program proudly supports their grant partners’ CEOs and executive directors to take extended time away from our organizations to recharge, immerse in enriching experiences, build skills and knowledge, and broaden our vision – all according to a plan we designed on our own. This is intentional growth for me; pausing, resting, refreshing and learning. I’m grateful to the McGregor Fund for the grant that makes it possible for me to step back for this time.