RefugeeOne (formerly Interfaith Refugee and Immigration Ministries, or IRIM) is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization that provides a full range of services to refugees and immigrants resettling in the Chicago metropolitan area. Every year, RefugeeOne assists more than 3,000 refugees (approximately 600 are new each year) and immigrants from around the world to find housing, learn English, acclimate to American culture, develop computer and other employable skills, find jobs, obtain medical and other care, access the public school system for their children, apply for citizenship, and obtain care for elderly family members. RefugeeOne’s programs are made possible through the dedicated efforts of 38 staff members – many of whom were refugees themselves – and more than 200 volunteers.
As an independent organization, “When funding gets tough, we sink or we swim,” said Greg Wangerin, RefugeeOne’s executive director. In 2006, the organization had only one person dedicated to fundraising and a budget of more than $2 million. The organization’s leadership team sought to strengthen its fundraising capabilities, which would require hiring additional staff members. “We knew it was time to start investing in ourselves, and that one person dedicated to fundraising wasn’t going to provide us with the results we needed,” Greg said.
In addition, with funding always a challenge, RefugeeOne operated on a tight budget with staff scrambling just to handle the day-to-day tasks of fulfilling RefugeeOne’s mission. As a result, there was little, if any, long-term or strategic planning to ensure RefugeeOne’s success and longevity, and the staff was prone to burnout. The organization did not have clearly defined job descriptions, making it difficult to hold employees accountable for their work, or to provide fair and equitable compensation.
RefugeeOne called on Stacy Reynolds to help expand the organization’s fundraising capabilities. Stacy assisted RefugeeOne with first identifying the key positions that could improve the organization’s fundraising capabilities and then providing the Board with the information they needed to commit the funds for hiring new staff members. Once the board approved the addition of new staff members, Stacy assisted in recruiting, screening, and interviewing candidates. Three new people were hired as a result – a grant writer, a development officer, and a development director.
RefugeeOne later called on Stacy to assist the board of directors in drafting a new strategic plan. The strategic plan provided a foundation and a direction on which the organization could build. As part of the process, RefugeeOne drafted a new mission statement and came up with a new name and subsequent branding campaign.
In addition, Stacy worked with RefugeeOne on redesigning an organizational chart that would help maximize the performance of the organization’s limited staff to provide the most impact on its programs.
“It’s slightly early to determine how much of a financial impact the strategic plan has made,” Greg said. “But, we definitely have seen an increase in financial support.” During the strategic planning process, it was decided that RefugeeOne start reaching out to other funding sources in addition to the churches and faith-based organizations it was previously approaching. Already, a Chicago-area high public school has pledged to donate proceeds from an upcoming dance marathon to Refugee One (last year’s event raised $75,000). In addition, RefugeeOne’s annual fundraiser has risen to “a more sophisticated level” and as a result, the event brought in $10,000 more than the previous year. And, despite the current economic climate, the organization has received funding from at least three new foundations, Greg said.
RefugeeOne’s new strategic plan has had a profound effect on the organization. “The strategic plan has helped change us an organization. It’s a process … it’s ongoing … it’s alive.” The plan provides goals and ways to quantify its success. He noted that not-for-profits do not typically have such sophisticated and comprehensive strategic plans, but they would greatly benefit from them if they could invest the time. “We are way ahead of the curve with our strategic planning,” Greg said. “And what we have undertaken is something that can be replicated in other not-for-profits that resettle refugees.”
Greg said the results of Stacy’s professional assistance have provided the organization a renewed hope and positive outlook for the future. With Stacy’s experience with not-for-profits and private businesses, she was able to offer insight into what proven business strategies and practices can be applied to not-for-profit organizations. Her assistance was well worth the investment, Greg noted.