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Four Stories of High Performance

High-performing nonprofits stand out in their ability to make extraordinary impact in their communities. With the right leadership, the right strategy, and the right resources, they demonstrate how strategic, innovative solutions can transform even the most daunting challenges into opportunities. So how do we develop a better understanding of what factors contribute to achieving this high level of performance? And what does it looks like in action?

Through the Nonprofit Impact Awards Case Study Competition, The Home Depot Foundation and the Georgia Center for Nonprofits sought to answer those questions. Launched in 2012 as a component of The Home Depot Foundation’s Building Community Network, the Competition recognizes and shares best practices in the areas of expansion, innovation, outreach, and collaboration within Georgia’s nonprofit sector. Awards showcase stories of eight nonprofits with initiatives that made considerable impact on their organization and mission, in one of four areas:

Scaled Success—Expanding the depth of services offered to a targeted group or widening the breadth of services offered to a local area.

Innovative Process—Creating processes or operational efficiencies that facilitate better results and increased impact.

Increased Support & Awareness—Driving awareness and attracting support through activism, volunteerism, or other means to increase impact.

Collaborative Action—Working with partners on collaborative efforts that transform operations, programs, or systems.

“We feel it is especially important to support local Atlanta nonprofits by sharing with the larger community the exemplary stories of their incredible performance,” said Kelly Caffarelli, president of The Home Depot Foundation. “With this competition, we hope to provide a successful model for other nonprofits to replicate.”

How They Did It
Across a diverse group of high-performance initiatives, GCN observed five “red threads” of performance that empowered these organizations to achieve transformative change and impact:
Finding a champion to drive the vision and plan.
Team engagement and alignment

Getting the right people on board and building trust through communication and cooperative engagement.
Preparation meeting opportunity

Developing a market-focused understanding of opportunities that allows the organization to seize them.
Taking calculated risks

Reviewing the numbers to determine how opportunities align with the business of your organization.

Maintaining dedication to the mission in the face of major change.

The following is a sample of these winning cases. For complete case studies of all eight recognized organizations, read the 2012 Nonprofit Impact Award Case Studies.

Scaled Success

CHRIS Kids Expands to Meet Changing Client Need

Challenge: With government funding for child services in a state of constant flux, child welfare organization CHRIS Kids needed to develop a flexible, realistic strategy to sustain services for their clients. Additionally, they needed to expand to better serve a new and growing population—children aging out of foster care.

Solution: CHRIS Kids’ efforts to scale success evolved over more than a decade, beginning with CEO Kathy Colbenson fully engaging her board in an interactive process that resulted in a vision for permanent, supportive housing serving homeless youth and youth aging out of foster care—a facility that would become Summit Trail.

With the vision in place, CHRIS Kids brought together key stakeholders, including the board, donors, volunteers, staff, and clients, to weigh in on critical aspects of the new facility’s design and construction, as well as the direction of program growth. Engaging a variety of stakeholders also led to success in their $12.1 million capital effort.

The scope and duration of the project required CHRIS Kids to regularly update and integrate their strategies, and to take advantage of opportunities as they arose. Remaining practical was also key, as Colbenson recounts: “While striving for excellence is essential, everything must be tempered within the realities of your organization. It’s about balance.”

Today, Summit Trail is operating at full capacity, and accounts for a 30% increase in supportive services. The facility includes apartments, a counseling center, and a suite of in-home services. CHRIS Kids continues to adopt mindful change and growth patterns as they look to the future.

Innovative Process

The Center for Puppetry Arts Embraces Distance Learning

Challenge: In 1998, the Center for Puppetry Arts’ (CPA) outreach efforts extended only as far as the company van could travel. With the desire to share the art of puppetry, and the need to meet a growing demand from educators for hands-on workshop experiences, CPA looked for an effective and efficient way to broaden the delivery of their education programs.

Solution: CPA took an innovative approach in expanding their reach and meeting the demand of educators by capitalizing on Georgia’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine Act of 1992, which put videoconferencing equipment in K-12 classrooms state-wide. The opportunity to reach a potential audience of 6,000 in any of the 400 schools plugged into the new system gave CPA the medium and motivation they needed to tap Patty Dees to design and launch a new, extensive Distance Learning Program.

When the original state network and funding for distance learning dried up in the mid-2000s, CPA made a “leap of faith” to launch their own IP network, and began looking outside the state for new partner audiences.

Over the past two decades, CPA has seen success and challenge in the Distance Learning Program. With communication technology constantly evolving, Dees credits the program’s longevity to “CPA’s continued commitment to embracing new technology, and integrating it into programming that fits our mission.” For example, when the original state network and funding for distance learning (as well as the built-in audience of Georgia classrooms) dried up in the mid-2000s, CPA made a ”leap of faith” to launch their own IP network and began looking outside the state for new partner audiences.

Today, CPA has grown to two studios and a remote audience that numbers 20,000, with 95% outside Georgia. They continue to partner with teachers to ensure the delivery of relevant content (such as interactive arts programs and STEM education). CPA currently broadcasts to libraries, children’s hospitals, and community centers in five countries.

Increased Support & Awareness

Kate’s Club Builds a Movement for Grief Awareness

Challenge: Kate’s Club is a small organization with a big mission—to create a healthy grieving space for the estimated 40,000 children and teens in metro Atlanta who have lost a parent or sibling. The organization wanted to leverage their passion and energy to promote healthy grieving and build public awareness.

“Focusing on your mission often brings the resources and support to you.”  
— Emily Hawkins

Solution: With an eye toward building a national movement, Kate’s Club began a campaign to establish Grief Awareness Day. A careful strategy of collaboration and alignment drew in key partners like LEAD Atlanta, the Atlanta City Council, and the Georgia State Legislature to support this awareness-building project. Executive Director Emily Hawkins said that “focusing on your mission often brings the resources and support to you.”

The first Grief Awareness Day (GAD) took place on March 1, 2011, and included a day of programming at the capitol building, a memorial tree-planting program, and the launch of a blog at katesclub.org. A year later, GAD has built partnerships through a broad multi-media campaign, including 72 participating schools. Kate’s Club found that using “clear language about grief” and personal testimonies from beneficiaries and counselors was a helpful way to communicate their message.

With GAD, Kate’s Club has expanded their online reach by more than 30% (via e-newsletters, Facebook and Twitter), and the GAD blog reaches more than 9,500 readers. This and other initiatives have helped Kate’s Club expand outreach efforts to hospices, hospitals, counseling groups, social service agencies, and schools.

Collaborative Action

Atlanta Legal Aid Society Partners with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta

Challenge: Atlanta Legal Aid Society delivers legal services education that improves the social, political, and economic conditions of low-income persons, but found they were unable to fully serve their clients whose poverty issues were related to ill-health. Faced with an ingrained disconnect between the medical and legal fields, ALAS sought an opportunity to serve their clients holistically while also promoting interdisciplinary legal education.

Solution: In 2004, the ALAS and Georgia State University’s College of Law envisioned a collaboration that would improve low-income patient access to attorneys trained in health and poverty law by putting lawyers inside hospitals.

Project director Sylvia Caley noted that “people excited and willing to explore unchartered territory, find common ground, and continue championing in the midst of their organizations’ primary work,” were the keys to successful partnership.

While this project was designed to benefit low-income patients and the medical and legal communities, the first challenge was finding a healthcare provider willing to partner; concerns over legal issues kept major players like Grady Health System from committing.

ALAS found a shared vision for their Health Law Partnership (HeLP) in the leadership of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA). CHOA saw the program as a way to empower patients and their families, while providing parents of sick children access to the legal advice they need without having to leave their child’s side.

The project initially struggled with partners’ competing priorities, and found that communication and collaborative planning were the essential components to success. HeLP Director Sylvia Caley noted that “people excited and willing to explore unchartered territory, find common ground, and continue championing in the midst of their organizations’ primary work,” were the keys to successful partnership.

In 2011, HeLP handled 362 cases, benefitting families $1.2 million, while saving CHOA at least $30,000 in unreimbursed charity care dollars. It is also cross-training the next generation of professionals from Morehouse School of Medicine, Emory University Medical and Law School, and Georgia State Law School.

Mackenzie Wood is development director at Georgia Center for Nonprofits.

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