NOT JUST PARTNERS, BUT CUSTOMERS
Family League of Baltimore has set a tall goal for itself. That goal is to make sure that by 2030, all children in Baltimore will be born healthy, succeed academically, graduate high school, and transition to higher education and the workforce.
Meanwhile, 25 percent of Baltimore City residents live in poverty. The Family League, which provides funding and professional development to organizations supporting Baltimore’s impoverished residents, has limited resources. So the 75-employee operation is dependent on the community-based organizations it supports to effect change citywide.
Those local organizations will ultimately provide children and families with programs and services to help them succeed and thrive. In doing so, they will help Family League grow a robust network.
“We are stewards, but we need these organizations to do the work just as much as they need our resources. It’s a partnership. It’s 50/50,” says president and CEO Jonathon Rondeau.
Family League provided close to $16 million to organizations in the city in 2016 alone. The fund-allocating organization is hoping that the nonprofits it “re-grants” these monies to will help it reach far and achieve lasting outcomes for children and youth.
The importance of this dynamic is why Rondeau and Family League don’t just view these local organizations as partners, but as customers. This philosophy, and the services Family League provides to these stakeholders, are what makes the nonprofit different from traditional foundations. Rather than simply writing a check, staff are there every step of the way to help ensure funding recipients’ success with wrap-around services.
Among the value-added services Family League provides are ongoing technical assistance and coaching. The nonprofit deems these supports so important that it has deployed staff who have invested hundreds of hours of professional development in more than 1,000 workers. This assistance is focused on topics from financial literacy to youth development and health.
Family League’s approach is not a new practice or focus. The organization has mobilized resources and worked to build the capacity of Baltimore nonprofit organizations since 1991.
It has stayed on this path because its success as a servant organization depends on relationships with the organizations it calls customers.
Listening first and responding second are critical aspects of delivering good customer service. Just as important is being transparent and clear on expectations upfront, says Rondeau.
“This means holding people equitably accountable,” he says. “I say equitably accountable because small grassroots organizations will have different resources and different challenges than a large nonprofit or large university we also fund.”
Family League works to meet nonprofits where they are, so each member of the network it has built is working together on collective goals.
Progress has been equally dependent on Family League’s own people.
“At Family League, human capital is our biggest need and biggest opportunity to truly effect change,” says Rondeau.
The commitment to this belief is seen throughout the culture and organizational structure, beginning with The Office of People and Culture. The name of this department, which reports directly to Rondeau, reflects the importance the nonprofit places on interpersonal communication. And the name reflects the organization’s ideas on shared workplace values.
“[We recruit] people who truly care about our mission as well as that fit into our culture. We can train the hard skills later on,” says Rondeau.
At the core of Family League’s operation is a collaborative leadership style. Whether an employee’s role is frontline worker or senior manager, each influences the nonprofit’s direction. This team-play approach is among the payoffs the Baltimore employer offers its staff. The opportunity to make a difference is also part of the package.
“[Employees] truly care about the city and want to make it better. They want to create opportunities for each and every child and adult that lives here,” says Rondeau.
Charm City is home not just to the needy residents Family League works to empower, but to many of the staff too. Sixty-seven percent of Family League’s workforce lives in Baltimore. They send their kids to school there, work there and shop there. They work together to propel what makes the organization unique, which is the way it works to serve funding recipients.
“We are strengthening 70 organizations in addition to trying to make ourselves strong,” says Rondeau. “We are all grappling with these challenges together, and [the question is], how do we best do it?”
Photo (L to R): Demaune Millard, COO; Karen Janssen, Senior Director of Funded Partnerships; Julia Baez, Chief Strategy Officer; Jeff Walley, CFO; Michele Speaks, VP of Advancement; Jonathon Rondeau, President and CEO