Charlotte nonprofits lead the way in increasing economic mobility

By Caylin VialesCaylin

Not only am I new to Next Stage Consulting, but I’m also brand new to Charlotte. Over the past two months, I’ve dedicated a lot of my free time to traditional newbie activities. Brewery hopping? Check – Free Range Brewing is my favorite so far. I’ve made a point to take the light rail uptown, explore different neighborhoods and go for walks along the Rail Trail and the Little Sugar Creek Greenway. But while some may stop there, I’m someone who also dives head first into local policy and social issues. Check out what I’m learning and follow along.

You’ve probably heard this by now, but Charlotte has an economic mobility problem. What you might not have heard yet is that local Charlotte nonprofits are leading the way in creating innovative solutions to address it.

Background: Groundbreaking research from Harvard University and University of California-Berkeley ranking Charlotte 50th of the country’s 50 largest cities for upward economic mobility for children living in large metropolitan areas.

According to the research, a child raised in the bottom quintile of the national income distribution in Charlotte has just a 4.4 percent chance of reaching the top quintile. By comparison, children raised in some of the top ranking cities like San Jose, Salt Lake City and Seattle were more than twice as likely to reach the top quintile.

Since that familiar study was published, the city has organized to address these economic mobility issues. In April 2014, cross-sector leaders launched the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Economic Opportunity Task Force, a group of 21 community volunteers from diverse backgrounds working to lower barriers to upward economic mobility in Charlotte.

The task force was convened to research and report on the underlying social issues that contribute to generational poverty – including affordable housing, employment and education – and create an action plan for the city to increase economic opportunities for low-income children. Using the same five metrics (segregation, income inequality, primary school quality, social capital and family structure) as defined in the original report on economic mobility, the task force’s first report confirms that Charlotte is challenged across all five major opportunity indictors.

According to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Quality of Life Explorer, there is a surprisingly consistent pattern showing that the majority of neighborhoods in South Charlotte perform highly against indicators such as income, education, employment and health outcomes, while a crescent of neighborhoods to the west, north and east of the city struggle. Maps showing the racial breakdown of Charlotte neighborhoods follow that same distinct pattern.

Income & raceThis stark racial and income segregation can be attributed to decades of housing policy such as redlining and urban renewal, and it has perpetuated what some are calling the re-segregation of Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s public schools. School district data, as presented by Amy Hawn Nelson of UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, shows that one in three schools is isolated by class – meaning at least 80% of students live in poverty. Half are isolated by race – meaning at least 80% of students identify as one race. One in five schools is “hyper-segregated” by race – a term defined as meaning at least 90% of students identify as one race. Research shows that isolated or high-poverty schools correlate positively with poor student achievement and negatively impact school quality, and diverse campuses improve educational outcomes such as test scores and graduation rates.

The task force’s final report will reveal important recommendations to address the five opportunity indicators that would move our city forward, but city and county government face a series of roadblocks when addressing intractable social issues such as economic mobility and education. Much like the launch of the task force itself, it will be a slow and meticulous process.

The Road Ahead

While real, long-term progress cannot be made without top-level success in addressing the structural barriers to upward economic mobility, we need to simultaneously invest in low-income neighborhoods by supporting the local programs and organizations that are actively building social capital and strengthening communities. Many community leaders are already doing important work to increase economic mobility and advocate for more equitable housing and school policies, and are doing so through grassroots programs and nonprofit organizations.

Nonprofits are unique in their ability to be nimble and highly responsive to community need – making them the ideal first responders in Charlotte to challenging social problems like upward economic mobility. In the month since I joined Next Stage Consulting, I have met and learned about many local leaders and programs focused on addressing economic mobility through art, education and advocacy:

  • Hip Hop Orchestrated, founded by Kia Moore, works to knock down social barriers and shatter cultural boundaries by blending different musical genres to connect people of different backgrounds and battle classism, racism, ageism and sexism. When I think about innovative programs addressing economic mobility through building social capital, Hip Hop Orchestrated is one of the first that comes to mind.
  • Gen-One Charlotte, led by Ian Joyce, gives talented low-income students a road map to and through college. The organization, which provides college counseling and intensive mentorship to cohorts of students, works to create opportunities for increased economic mobility by helping high-performing students in Title I schools prepare for, enroll in and complete college, setting them on a trajectory for career success.

I am also excited about the potential of a new community fund at United Way of Central Carolinas, Unite Charlotte, dedicated to supporting programs and organizations focused on building social capital, fostering racial equity and creating opportunities in Mecklenburg County. Established in response to the recent unrest in Charlotte, the fund prioritizes new and innovative solutions to community challenges that have been in operation for less than five years and have an operating budget of less than $250,000. This fund will provide important financial support to programs and organizations that might not have access to more traditional philanthropy. Shameless plug – applications are due on February 17, 2017.

All of us – life-long Charlotteans and brand new residents, government officials and community leaders alike – have a role to play in ensuring that Charlotte becomes a more equitable city for generations to come. What is yours?

Announcing Q1 2016 Illuminate Speakers

Next Stage Consulting is pleased to announce the first slate of 2016 speakers in the Illuminate series at Hygge.

Illuminate is a twice-monthly series facilitated by Josh Jacobson of Next Stage Consulting and hosted at Hygge, a coworking community near uptown, where participants gain a better understanding of how nonprofits in the Charlotte region are working on their behalf.  The series is notable for its focus on the business underpinnings of the nonprofit sector and a willingness to tackle challenging topics head-on.

Sessions take place on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of each month throughout 2016, and lunch is provided for participants.  To be added to the list for notification when RSVPs will be accepted for each session, or to suggest future speakers for the series, visit the Hygge website.

Emerging & Earning

DJessupDavid Jessup, CEO, Digi-Bridge
Tuesday, January 12, 11:45am-1:00pm

Digi-Bridge aims to equip shareholders with the means to foster optimal use of technology in the learning environment, ensuring that all 21st century learners have opportunities to succeed in the digital age.  Embarking on year two, Digi-Bridge leadership has developed a business model that considers both profitability and social mission impact. Over lunch, CEO David Jessup will discuss Digi-Bridge’s three-pronged approach and how his team is managing short-term financial challenges while maintaining long-term goals.


Leadership is Action, Not Position

JTurnerJeremy Turner, Chief Solutions Officer, JET Solutions
Tuesday, January 26, 11:45am-1:00pm

We can all agree that leadership will either make or break an organization, but sadly, many misconceptions exist as to what great leadership actually looks, sounds and feels like in today’s world. In this session, Jeremy Turner will share insights aimed at clearing up these misconceptions for good, while also offering tools designed to help leaders at all levels become more effective.  A DiSC-Certified Behavioral Consultant and Certified Behavioral Life Coach, Jeremy brings experience from his leadership roles for industry giants and grassroots startup ventures in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors.


Story Matters

DJohnsonDavid Johnson, Executive Director, Silent Images
Tuesday, February 9, 11:45am-1:00pm

David Johnson, Executive Director of Silent Images will share the power of storytelling.  Silent Images is a nonprofit organization that provides professional video and photography services to other charities around the world.  David and his team have done documentary work in 40 different countries for hundreds of charities. Whether it is documenting human trafficking in Cambodia, Ebola in Liberia, genocide in Sudan, or homelessness in Charlotte, David and his team seek to preserve the dignity of those impacted while telling their stories to inspire others to take action against injustice.


The Big Picture

TLansdellTerry Lansdell, Program Director, Clean Air Carolina
Tuesday, February 23, 11:45-1:00pm

Coming the uptown Charlotte in March, Particle Falls is a large-scale public artwork by artist Andrea Polli that provides a real time visualization of particulate pollution.  As Program Director for Clean Air Carolina, Terry Lansdell has worked collaboratively with a number of partners to make the project a reality.  From concept to implementation, Terry will walk through his plan for leveraging this highly visible art installation to “make the invisible visible” and address public engagement, civic education and political advocacy.


Keeping True

KFinleyKelly Finley, Founder & Director, Girls Rock Charlotte
Tuesday, March 8, 11:45am-1:00pm

As Senior Lecturer and Undergraduate Advisor of Women’s & Gender Studies at UNC Charlotte, Kelly Finley explores the ways that gender influences social structures and individual experience around the world.  Against the backdrop of Girls Rock Charlotte, the chapter-based youth arts organization she established in 2014, Kelly will speak about the many manifestations of feminism and how to be true to your cause as the founder of a nonprofit organization.


Generosity of Peers

JJacobsonJosh Jacobson, Managing Director, Next Stage Consulting
March 22, 11:45am-1:00pm

The success of #GivingTuesday 2015 cannot be denied, with online giving growing 52% compared to 2014.  Peer-to-peer on-line fundraising platforms are plentiful these days, and with word that Facebook is introducing new tools for nonprofits, there are more options than ever.  In this workshop session, Illuminate Host Josh Jacobson of Next Stage Consulting will walk through how to best utilize peer-to-peer giving within the context of a nonprofit development plan, outline best practices and potential pitfalls, and compare platforms.


About Next Stage Consulting
Next Stage is a strategy and implementation firm for nonprofits in the Carolinas. Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, Next Stage provides support for strategic planning, fund development, organizational strengthening and project management. The firm is led by Managing Director Josh Jacobson who has partnered with more than 100 nonprofit organizations since 2009.  nextstage-consulting.com

About Hygge
Hygge (pronounced Hoo-Ga) is a coworking community located at 809-C West Hill Street near Uptown Charlotte. Hygge is Danish for “creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people,” which is an apt description for this coworking community powered by Garrett Tichy and Kayla Dugger of Ready at 7. wearehygge.com

Sustaining Success: Meeting the Needs of Mecklenburg County’s Homeless Population

by Sam McClenney, Research & Special Projects

A recent study commissioned by the City of Charlotte reports that the number of homeless families in Charlotte decreased by 27 percent from September 1, 2013, to August 31, 2014.

While this trend is promising, there are still more than 150,000 people in Mecklenburg County living below the poverty line, 60,000 of which are children and seniors, as noted by Second Harvest’s CEO Kay Carter in the Charlotte Observer article. These individuals are often both food insecure and homeless – their success must continue if Charlotte’s homeless are to transition from the streets into permanent homes.

What changes in Charlotte have made it easier for the homeless to lift themselves out of poverty? And how can we continue this trend in the coming years?

Keys to Success: Coordination & Mobilization

20018847_sHelping the homeless is not easy. No one homeless person or family is the same, so creating a system that provides each the exact help needed is impossible. However, agencies in Mecklenburg County have taken note of what works (and perhaps more importantly, what doesn’t work), and are applying what they have learned.

According to Kelly Lynn, Director of Development at Supportive Housing Communities, the key to success has been a rigorous focus on best practices.

“Our community has been paying attention to practices that are most successful in other communities, along with learning new techniques at national conferences,” Lynn said. “One excellent initiative started in 2014 is Coordinated Assessment which connects individuals and families who are homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless, to the best available shelter or housing resource.”

Another reason for the decline may be the rise in the number of local leaders focusing their energies on the issue of homelessness.

Thomas Wheeler, Founder of Urban Outreach, sees a shift in moving attention to action.

“From my perspective it is because more people are getting personally involved with the poor and homeless,” Wheeler said. “And when we come together as a community, positive change is inevitable.”

Coming together means generating empathy for the plight of the homeless, understanding that it is often out of the individual’s control.

Wheeler says: “I also think people are understanding that they too could be homeless one day (given a poor set of uncontrollable circumstances) and so their level of judgment of the guy or gal they see on the street corner has changed.”

Keeping the Ball Rolling

Success like Charlotte has achieved often results in praise, but it also brings pressure for continued success. Agencies responsible for this development will need to stabilize funding if they hope to continue their progress. Will this positive news provide a message of hope that can keep funders around? Carson Dean, of the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte, believes so.

“We really believe funders, especially foundations, major donors and congregations, want to invest in solutions, not just continue to manage crises,” Dean said. “This message of success has resonated well and I believe will only become more important to secure sustainable resources.”

Wheeler and Lynn echoed this sentiment.

“On the positive side some will see it as their efforts being affirmed and they will be more encouraged to help even further,” Wheeler said.

“We track our outcomes and show our funders the proof that the people we serve have ‘a place to live again’ and are not returning to homelessness,” Lynn said.

2015 and Beyond

Agencies will have to ‘step up their game’ if they want to top this past year’s success. The community seems more then up to the task, as they shared their plans for the coming year.

“Men’s Shelter of Charlotte plans to move 500 men to more appropriate housing, launch a formal diversion program to begin working towards diverting 20% of homeless men from ever needing shelter, and continue to build a cadre of landlords and employers eager to assist men,” Dean said.

Supportive Housing Communities started a program this past spring called the Scattered Site Program, which targets families that have little to no income, but have nowhere to go.

“SHC is currently serving 24 families with this initiative. By early 2015, SHC anticipates serving 17 individuals and 39 families in our Scattered Site Program, and we anticipate this number growing through the year,” Lynn said.

Start-up ministry Urban Outreach has big plans in 2015.

“Urban Outreach, has been incorporated to help leaders who help the poor be more successful,” Wheeler said. “I am trying to keep leaders focused on what they do best, helping the poor get off the street, rather than having to become fundraisers, marketing experts or great speakers by providing those other things for them.”

While 2014 was a successful year for the agencies that tackle the needs of Charlotte’s homeless community as many clients found their way out of poverty and into housing, there is still much more to be done. Luckily, it sounds like 2015 might bring even more success.

Photo Copyrights: / 123RF Stock Photo

2014: A Look Ahead for Nonprofits in Charlotte

As 2013 comes to a close, nonprofits across the Charlotte region are gearing up to advance their missions in the new year.  The region’s economy has improved mightily since the depths of recession, and yet many organizations continue to struggle with creating sustainable operations at a time when demand for their services remains high.

Next Stage Consulting may not have the gift of fortune telling, but we’ve peered into the crystal ball nonetheless, and make the following five predictions nonprofits should consider when planning for the year ahead:

  • Continued Confusion on Public Funding – Perhaps the single most important factor for nonprofits in the health and human services sector is the shifting leadership structure in state government.  According to our sources, the future looks grim for nonprofits, as cuts to funding over the last four years may have just been a prologue to what is to come. Key to this will be the 2014 election and its impact on the North Carolina legislature. If voters show that they like what they’ve been seeing, expect to see elected officials emboldened to continue making even deeper cuts to the state budget.
  • Dramatic Increase in Capital Campaigns – It would appear 2014 will be the year of the capital campaign in the Charlotte region, with several high profile campaigns likely to move from quiet phase to public phase. We’ve been calling for this for some time, with so many organizations having had to sit on their ambitious 2008-2009 campaign plans while the recession took its toll. Higher education, secondary education and the area’s hospitals have been largely quiet fundraising-wise over the last few years. If your organization wants to get in on the action, you had better act quickly.
  • The ‘Silver Tsunami’ Becomes A Top Headline – After a year that saw healthcare take center stage in public debate, less has been said about the continued influx of baby boomers entering retirement. In 2013, the issue showed up as turnover at the top of many nonprofit organizations in the area, where Executive Directors who were “holding on for a few more years” as their retirement funds improved began to leave the workforce. But caring for aging boomers (and their parents) is likely to become a more pressing issue in 2014. How can your nonprofit respond to this narrative through your programming (and fund development strategies!)?
  • Shift in Focus from Intervention to Prevention As public funding becomes more hard won, weary philanthropists in Charlotte’s top grant making institutions are seeking systemic change and collective impact. While a focus on meeting the need right in front us will continue, 2014 may be the year that funders in the area band together to advance preventative approaches to poor school performance, health and wellbeing, and basic human needs. How can your organization demonstrate moving the needle in the long term?
  • Uptown Charlotte Comes Alive – 2014 is going to be a big year for Uptown Charlotte, as BB&T Ballpark will open for the Charlotte Knights in the spring and the Charlotte Hornets will once again hit the floorboards at the arena. We predict a sizable influx of young professionals and their families pouring in to the uptown, at a greater rate than in recent years. How will your nonprofit take advantage of this opportunity to engage this hard-to-reach demographic?