Look for a merger partner—before it’s too late. Hull House had several opportunities to join forces with others when its finances were in better shape, but it passed those chances by and clung to its optimism, says Stephen Saunders, the organization’s board chair.
Diversify revenue. Ian Bautista, president of United Neighborhood Centers of America, urges boards to raise no more than one-third of an organization’s income from government sources, one-third from fees for services or revenue from business enterprise, and the rest from foundations and other private donors.
Keep fundraising skills sharp. Before President Johnson’s War on Poverty, the drive in the 1960s to direct more federal aid to charities that serve the needy, many social-services groups did a good job raising money. “But with big-government funding, they lost a lot of the connections and the ability,” says Mr. Bautista. He notes that the founder of Hull House, Jane Addams, did most of the fundraising for her charity herself.
Stay nimble. Charity leaders and boards need to know where every dollar goes and quickly make adjustments when revenue is weak, says Thomas Vanden Berk, chief executive of the Uhlich Children’s Advantage Network, one of the Chicago groups that will take over services for some of Hull House’s 14,000 clients. “You need to think like a business person,” he says.
Stay alert. “Don’t ignore all the signals,” warns Ricardo (Ric) Estrada, chief executive of Metropolitan Family Services, another Chicago group that will be serving Hull House’s clients. “Listen to what your gut is telling you and what the numbers are saying. Ask for help early and often. And help doesn’t have to be financial.”