In 2013, when I became CEO of Senior Community Services, a nonprofit established in 1950, it was clear that a more business-focused approach was needed to better address growing and emerging needs.
Senior Community Services provides a variety of services to assist seniors and their caregivers. We strive to help seniors maintain independence through home maintenance assistance, to help reduce medical debt and health insurance costs, and to help manage complex senior care. We operate under a current budget of $2.2 million and use more than 4,000 volunteers to provide many free services.
We wanted to "think big" because Minnesota's 700,000 older adults have growing needs, and many live in or near poverty. But we also recognized that nonprofits are assessed on leanness, and many funders are averse to supporting initiatives with high potential but which remain unproven and financially uncharted opportunities.
Rather than being defined by tax status, our new descriptor became impact organization, one that always strives to identify and deliver the best services and delivery methods for helping seniors.
We needed to have greater impact through purpose; to be mission-driven but to enhance efficiencies. The business approach brought great change. We relocated our offices, adopted a new logo, branding and tagline (Reimagine Aging) and established the Reimagine Aging Institute to share senior issues and solutions.
We adopted a lean start-up approach to avoid substantial development costs for initiatives that were unproven. We favored experimentation over major upfront investment. For example, we know retiring baby boomers have high expectations, and many of them dislike sitting in a classroom setting for Medicare counseling classes. Many boomers said they would prefer to have the information online where they could access it at their own pace and convenience. Rather than take a big step and change the program, we decided to try small steps to test a hypothesis. We'll soon be testing an online version of the class on our website to gauge demand and boomers' willingness to pay a modest fee for online access to helpful health insurance information.
Under the lean start-up model, when we see gaps, we cautiously assess and respond. For example, when three other metro home chore programs, serving older adults and the disabled, were closing, we absorbed them into our Home program, becoming the largest provider of affordable home chore services in the state. Thousands of older Minnesotans and those with disabilities need help with window washing, leaf raking, snow removal and minor repairs in order to maintain independence. As a result of our leadership, we received a three-year $500,000 Live Well at Home Grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services to integrate the programs and develop a business plan to share our Home model with other chore providers statewide. This represents tremendous capacity building for Minnesota's safety net.
To have impact requires engaged talent. We seek staff and volunteers driven by outcomes and meeting human needs. We adopted a distributive/shared leadership management style. This egalitarian approach gives managers greater decisionmaking responsibilities for their programs. We adopted a "try it!" style that's neither punitive nor stifling.
The process of leading the staff through this change period went well. Staff ranked employee satisfaction at 3.5 on a 4 point scale; and they remain inspired and motivated by the new approach. All staff are engaged in the feedback loop as we foster a culture of trust and accountability for behaviors and results.
In the digital age, having impact requires technology to connect with people and extend care. Since many family members are dispersed, caregiving is often challenging as children try to meet the needs of an aging parent. This frequently puts a major burden on the child or children living near the struggling parent(s). Families told us they need a way to connect with each other and to identify resources for their loved ones. So, we developed CareNextion.org, a free, easy-to-use website that helps families coordinate tasks, provide updates on doctor visits, and arrange resources to help their loved one live a healthier, more vital life. CareNextion's utilization has grown more than 50 percent in the past few years.
As a result of Senior Community Services' greater business focus, we're building brand awareness, generating support for growing needs, and enhancing the flow of resources to have real impact in the lives of older adults and caregivers. And rather than seeing other nonprofits as competitors for finite charitable dollars, we now partner with more than 900 nonprofits around the state.
Staff engagement remains high because we've recognized that to change lives you need to take care of the people who animate the mission. And because we rely on charitable support for much of our budget, we need supportive donors, and we're seeing funders embrace our leadership in identifying and addressing care gaps.
As an impact organization, we've discovered that embracing best practices with a more business-focused model has led to a stronger organization, one that holds great promise for other Minnesota nonprofits.
Deb Taylor is CEO of Senior Community Services/Reimagine Aging Institute.