Identifying Growth Strategies and Addressing Challenges in the Nonprofit Industry


March, 2015 – David Gomez, President and CEO of David Gomez and Associates, Inc. a 37 year-old executive search firm specializing in healthcare and nonprofit C-Level placements, invited a group of Chicago’s most esteemed nonprofit CEO’s for a panel discussion addressing the current challenges of the nonprofit industry. Topics included the turbulent climate of federal funding, strategies for gaining non-government sponsors and supplemental advice on branding and the importance of tracking measurable performance.

Neli Vazquez

Keynote speaker Neli Vazquez Rowland; President and Co-Founder of A Safe Haven Foundation, was the first to share her story of success and experience dealing with the budgetary challenges that have affected her organization. Neli shared that even though the organization had federal budget cuts of 70% over the past five years, they were not only able to sustain but also double in size. This was due to developing a strategy to become more independent of federal funding and to create a sustainable cycle for graduates of rehabilitation programs offered by the organization. Vazquez Rowland tackled the issue of being reliant on a funding source that was no longer providing funding. She and her team began building businesses which employed the graduates of A Safe Haven. These businesses not only addressed the issue of finding work for program participants, but also provided a source of revenue that helped shift the majority of funding from the federal government, to a more sustainable mixture of private and public funding.  The new revenue structure for A Safe Haven is 60% government and 40% privately acquired revenue and Vazquez is working for even more independence. She stated, “Those that truly want to give back do it strategically and comprehensively. It is a pivotal time for nonprofits to create their own revenue and do whatever it takes to stay in operation. You have to generate your own electricity.”

Javier Palomarez

Speaking next was United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Javier Palomarez. Palomarez was able to discuss growth strategies and provide insight for addressing budget challenges from a national nonprofit level. David Gomez placed Palomarez in his current role for USHCC back in 2009, when the organization was in dire need of vast internal changes. During this crucial time in the depths of national recession, the organization was $1MM in debt and several sponsors were ready to pull their funding. Javier knew that with the recession it would be crucial to find alternative sources of revenue. To remedy the issue, the USHCC removed board members that did not align with their new vision and found members that understood the importance of branding and promoting the mission of the organization. For the first time the organization was viewed as a group of entrepreneurs, looking to be an active part of the American economy, while keeping the needs of the Hispanic community in mind. While previously the USHCC would only participate with Hispanic business owners, the new model of operation helped bring attention and contribution from 250 corporate sponsors. Palomarez stated, “If you believe in innovation or job creation, then you too have a place with us. It is imperative that we are all viewed as Americans more than anything else and more than ever before. With this new mind set and the relationships that we’ve built, we were able to gauge our current media impact at over 3 billion impressions this year.”

Following the keynote speakers, a question and answer session provided valuable insight to issues directly effecting Chicago area nonprofit organizations. George Wilson Executive Director and CEO of Circle Urban Ministries posed the question “How has innovation taken your organization to go to the next level”? Both Palomarez and Vazquez Rowland agreed that it is vital to couple resources with metrics in order to reach a measurable impact. It is equally important to showcase and clearly dictate what your organization does and where you are going.

Next a CEO in attendance asked “With each of your processes, how did you bring in strategic board members to help turn away from exclusively relying on federal funding?” Palomarez explained the importance of making sponsors see that a nonprofit organization is still a business. Referencing facts through metrics and key performance indicators can help clearly illustrate your goals and achievements to potential sponsors. With clear information to back up initiatives, organizations can find sponsors that want to participate in what they are trying to accomplish and eliminate sponsors that may not be a correct fit. “At the time we did not have the right people. Now we have corporations and executives like Jose Mas, who owns the largest construction company in the nation with 4.2 billion dollars in revenue and Carmen Castillo, who owns the largest woman-owned business in the nation. Once again the incumbent board was not the right fit, we need economic chairs. The governing body is the most important. With our new personnel in place we set out metrics and KPIs to get where we are today.”

The question and answer session concluded with Maricela Garcia, CEO of Gads Hill Center, who asked, “With current government cuts, how are we going to take care of social needs?” Vazquez Rowland and Palomarez again reiterated the importance of clearly articulating who you are as an organization. Palomarez stated, “Education and health care will be viewed as social issues. The reality is that we need to raise the dialogue for America in the long term. Very few organizations are in a position today to do that. Education is an investment in the future. What position will our workforce be in, in the future? Sometimes things sound more like social reform. You have to tie those issues to the facts. For example, in 5 years, 84% of the workforce will be people of color. We need to look at these things as a long term investment and we need to talk to organizations for funding providing the facts to back up raising social issues.” Vazquez Rowland added, “We can’t do it alone; we can’t do it without government. Government needs to do its part but so do we. What we are looking at is literally changing how our nation addresses social issues and preparing people to be contributing members of society.

  • David Gomez & Chris Gomez
  • David Gomez

David Gomez & Associates is proud to be associated with such a diverse group of professionals that are committed to these noteworthy non-profit initiatives. Our current economic climate demands diversified funding for the survival of non-profit organizations and creating innovative approaches to overcome funding dilemmas. The first stage to reaping success in this area is having the ability to brainstorm and think of unique tactics. The best way to succeed at this is to partner with other committed non-profit executives to generously share knowledge amongst the involved parties. We look forward to continuing these CEO roundtable discussions which can help bridge the gap as we share opinions to address the social issues affecting our communities and thus creating a vehicle of unified intelligence to grapple with the obstacles that face our great city and nation.