Build Your Fiscal Fitness: Insights from the Experts

Planning, planning, planning. It’s good advice in a lot of situations, but it’s especially important if you’re managing a non-profit organization on a limited budget.

Now, no one said it’s easy. But a new set of online tools from The Wallace Foundation and Fiscal Management Associates (FMA) does make it easier.

On Wednesday, CBASS and FMA hosted a webinar to introduce after-school organizations and their staff to these new tools, freely accessible via the site “Build Your Fiscal Fitness: An Introduction to Strong Nonprofits” explored the concept of strategic financial management and offered participants tools and strategies to implement it.

The first thing out-of-school time (OST) organizations need to know about financial management is why it’s important. In 2007, The Wallace Foundation commissioned research on the management capacity of after-school organizations and, subsequently, a demonstration project in Chicago. From that work, said Wallace communications officer Nina Sonenberg, “It became clear that strengthening financial management is key to supporting afterschool program quality…If you can’t pay your electric bill and your lights go out, your program suffers.” It’s not a connection people make immediately or often, but understanding it is at the crux of your organization’s long-term health.

The second thing is to know what financial management is. Many of us think it means accounting, or being in compliance with funders, or making sure there is cash in the bank. While it is all of those things, financial management encompasses a much broader strategic function, allowing organizations to focus on effectively utilizing resources to achieve their mission. Hilda Polanco, founder and managing director of FMA, highlighted three essential practices:
1) Developing accurate, realistic budgets;
2) Monitoring the financial status of individual programs; and
3) Projecting and managing cash flow needs.

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A Trip to Providence: Learning from the AfterZone

What is music?

Depends on who you ask, but one group of Providence middle-school youth recently offered me this definition: “Music is the organization of sound and silence.”

Pretty existential stuff, right? That’s the level of learning that takes place in high-quality after-school programs like the Music Club I visited at Roger Williams Middle School. But to build those high-quality programs and make sure they serve as many youth as possible, you need a system in place.

PASA Director of Expanded Learning Patrick Duhon talks with teams from Jacksonville, FL and Flint, MI about building expanded learning systems. (Photo courtesy of PASA.)

Patrick Duhon of PASA talks with teams from Jacksonville, FL and Flint, MI about building expanded learning systems.

It was for that reason that teams from seven cities were visiting Providence last week. On May 7 and 8, the Providence After School Alliance (PASA) held its annual City Symposium, an opportunity for cities to learn about the expanded learning system PASA has built over the past decade.

PASA, a CBASS partner, developed with city partners a proven model called the AfterZone, a coordinated citywide system of after-school, in-school, and summer activities for middle school youth in schools and community locations throughout Providence. Students are recruited from Providence Public School District middle schools and enrolled in programs of their choosing for 10-week sessions during the school year. The organization was launched as a public-private venture by former mayor and now Congressman David Cicilline in 2004, and has since expanded to include a four-week summer program and a similar high school network called the Hub.

Though PASA is now a smooth operating machine, it wasn’t always that way. PASA had to build from the ground up, working with community members to create a shared vision, build partnerships in diverse sectors, join forces with the public school district and teachers, and develop evaluation and quality improvement systems.

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Keeping the Momentum Going in Washington

CBASS is not letting the stalled reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) keep us from pressing our policy priorities in DC. Two weeks ago, we met with local delegates and staff from the Senate and House education authorization and appropriations committees to discuss our policy recommendations. As much as policy change in DC may be gridlocked, we left the Hill inspired by staffers’ hunger to understand from education leaders what works and what doesn’t, and how our on-the-ground work can inform legislation.

Here’s what we discussed:

Maintain the stand-alone 21st Century Community Learning Center program.
We continue to be dismayed by House Education leaders’ partisan approach to reauthorization and insistence on block granting discretionary education funds, such as the 21st Century Community Learning Center (CCLC) program. We continue to fight for a stand-alone funding stream to ensure these critical resources are available to communities in need. President Obama’s proposed $100 million increase to the 21st CCLC is a promising step in the right direction to ensure that more kids from high-need communities have opportunities to thrive and learn beyond the traditional school day.

Ensure strong partnerships between schools and community partners are required for all 21st CCLC programs.
In a scan of just our CBASS communities, we learned that partnerships are often prioritized in state policy, but not required. We believe all communities, both urban and rural, have the ability to transform learning experiences by leveraging the combined power of school and community partnerships. We shared with staff our stories of how intermediary organizations like the Nashville After Zone Alliance brings community partners like the YMCA and Girls, Inc. into the schools to deliver inspiring programming. Programs like this have doubled the participation rate in after-school and broken new ground with the school district in creating mechanisms for sharing information around school attendance and other academic outcomes.

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