Program to Aid Citizen Enterprise helps nonprofits tackle the details
August 15, 2016 12:00 AM
Trisha Gadson, center, executive director of Macedonia Family and Community Enrichment Center, meets with her staff Wednesday at the center’s office in the Hill District.
By Joyce Gannon / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In the mid-2000s, a decade after its founding as the social services outreach arm for a prominent Hill District church, Macedonia Family and Community Enrichment Center faced collapse.
“We had lost contracts and lost the confidence of stakeholders” because of a number of business management problems, said Trisha Gadson, executive director of the nonprofit who was not working there at the time.
When board members of the tiny nonprofit — an affiliate of Macedonia Church of Pittsburgh — realized its managers couldn’t resolve issues on their own that included staff shortages and inaccurate bookkeeping, they sought outside help. The goal was to allow the agency to continue its mission of assisting families in the Hill and elsewhere who are at risk because of poverty, job loss, lack of housing and food, and other situations that create crisis.
The board turned to the Program to Aid Citizen Enterprise, an organization that for nearly 50 years has worked to help bolster agencies like Macedonia FACE that help struggling African-Americans and other groups in need throughout Allegheny County.
Founded in 1968 in the wake of the assassination of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. and urban riots that followed his death, PACE initially was a cooperative effort of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, local African-American leaders, and the Community Chest and other groups that later merged into the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania.
Those who spearheaded the organization saw its mission as supporting small nonprofits that could be agents of social change in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
“There was a need to build upon community strengths, particularly people in small [nonprofit] organizations who would try and improve the lives of people in their own community,” said Robert Nelkin, president and chief professional officer of United Way who was on the board of the Community Chest when PACE was launched.
Among PACE’s early grantees were Manchester Bidwell Corp. on the North Side, the Kingsley Center in East Liberty, and the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council, Downtown. It estimates it has provided $10 million in grants and technical assistance to more than 300 nonprofits since its inception.
Peg Fiedler, program manager for PACE Intensive Services, said the original idea was to “make sure African-American leadership in Pittsburgh had a pool of funding to make decisions at the community level where the greatest needs are.”
But rather than just provide money to small nonprofits that focus on improving conditions for disadvantaged individuals and communities, PACE developed its Intensive Services program to help those organizations sustain themselves by providing them with tools for business expertise.
Through its two-pronged approach, PACE awards grants to the nonprofits. Then it requires staff and board members of the grantees to participate in educational cohorts where they get hands-on consulting and training in skills ranging from digital technology and marketing to leadership development.
“We don’t prescribe what [the nonprofits] do; we shepherd the process,” Ms. Fiedler said. The Program to Aid Citizen Enterprise, based in offices in Gateway Center, Downtown, has a separate program focused solely on strategic planning for nonprofits.
When PACE connected with Macedonia FACE, the Hill District agency was at the point where it “could’ve gone under,” because its financial and management problems were pretty dramatic, Ms. Fiedler said.
“Their board was very responsible in saying there were these issues and they needed a strong executive director to help remedy the situation and put them on a different trajectory,” she said.
PACE first helped the board with a reorganization that included recruiting a new executive director.
After Ms. Gadson was hired in 2010, Macedonia FACE won a series of grants from the program totaling $86,000 over five years. It used those to fund a staff retreat, strategic planning, new branding and marketing materials, executive coaching, financial reporting, technology upgrades and other items.
Its annual budget has grown from $500,000 in 2010 to $1.8 million, and its staff has more than doubled to about 17 with plans to increase that number to about 20, Ms. Gadson said.
Its redesigned website, business cards, brochures and Facebook page all feature a bright blue and gold logo, a distinctive look that is a direct result of input from a graphic design consultant referred through PACE, Ms. Gadson said.
“Most small organizations are not able to focus on or invest dollars in that kind of detail,” she said.
On the financial side, Macedonia FACE program managers have learned how to better measure and benchmark data about their services and programs, which include a truancy intervention project, HIV/AIDS case management, bullying prevention, and a Girls Circle aimed at building self-confidence in female teens
“We want to be very mindful of how we collect and report data,” she said.
For Heritage Community Initiatives in Braddock, PACE helped steer the agency when it faced dramatic cuts in government funding for transportation, Ms. Fiedler said.
Among the services Heritage provides is public transit for low-income individuals and seniors in 13 communities in Allegheny County.
The program began working with Heritage before Paula McWilliams was named chief executive in 2013 and it also assisted with that management transition.
“PACE has a much more intense approach than just providing dollars,” Ms. McWilliams said. “Their capacity building is critical. It’s not like hiring a consultant. They are willing to go the extra mile to utilize diagnostic tools and collaboration.”
Heritage also provides preschool education and before- and after-school and summer programs for K-8 students. It also provides basic support services for low-income individuals and families, including nutritious food boxes and holiday meals.
As part of PACE’s Intensive Services cohort the past five years, Heritage received a total of $94,000 in grants it used to update a computer server, enhance its donor database and streamline compliance processes.
“What they do doesn’t meet just the immediate need like a new server or a new brochure,” Ms. McWilliams said. “It’s setting you up for future success.”
The major philanthropic funders behind PACE include the United Way, which allocated $225,000 for the fiscal year that started July 1, and BNY Mellon Foundation of Southwestern Pennsylvania, which provided $75,000 for the current fiscal year.
Other funding has come from the PNC Charitable Trust and McAuley Ministries.
Since 2009, PACE has held an annual lunch, Inclusive Voices, where local leaders in government, the arts, business, science, philanthropy and other fields volunteer to lead informal conversations on current topics for tables of eight participants. The event attracts close to 300 people.
“It’s PACE’s signature event,” Mr. Nelkin said. “People don’t talk at the audience. People talk at small table discussions … and you have people paying attention to voices in the community and voices of small, neighborhood-based nonprofits.”
Joyce Gannon: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1580.
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