• Cindy Worthy

    What a well thought out article, every nonprofit staff and board should read! Nonprofits need to wake up and grasp operating/financial issues as they occur and deal with them today instead of trying to fundraise over them. Really sad reality for Hull House!

  • Jenifer Morgan

    Great article. Another good read on Hull House—which argues that the collapse of Hull House is a reminder that the tectonic shifts underway in the human service sector cannot be avoided—is here: http://ow.ly/cGZ1Y.

  • Mark Paley

    Thank you for this article. My first observation is that the Founder’s Syndrome could be solved (though by no means easily) by developing a succession plan, and it should not just be dismissed because of one’s shoes are impossible to fill. Secondly, I wonder who was reviewing the organization. Were the funders seeing the problems in their review of the organization’s financial statements?

  • Jim Lewis

    Very timely forensic examination. We need more nonprofit to take a cold hard look at the current external context and internal culture of their organizations. I wrote about this in an article for Christian Leadership Alliance journal, Outcomes: http://www.christianleadershipalliance.org/?CriticalShift

  • Gus Miller

    The analyst-author left out two imporant components of the failure: a very high-priced executive management team and accompanying outsourced financial oversight department that painted a very rosy picture to the board and to the public long after the situation had become dangerous, and a board of trustees for whom a seat at the table was more of a social status indicator than an opportunity to serve and to work, and who were not paying sufficiently close attention to what was being laid-out before them, and who were (almost unbelievably) caught by surprise as the end-game unfolded so quickly, with no time left to remedy the situation or to preserve the institution or to continue service its very large client portfolio.

    • Tavia Lawson

      Good point.

  • Tom Tresser

    The sudden closing of Hull House was shocking. There was no doubt bad management decisions made there – but, after all, they were ministering to people in need in times of dire economic hardship. II think Hull House needed to much more militant and organize for power – harkening back to its roots. The board was negligent in letting the legacy of Jane Addams slip away without a FIGHT – without taking their plight to the public – even if it meant exposing its recent history of questionable management. The nonprofit sector – especially the social work associations and every organization with “Jane Addams” its name (we have three in Chicago – a museum, a seniors program and a school of social work) – all were completely silent and did nothing to raise issues, challenge the closing or propose any public push back. I created an online petition and got over 650 signers in just a few days with no publicity. Imagine what a concerted effort would’ve realized from America’s nonprofit leaders and the international community of settlement houses, community centers and social work organizations that all owe their existence to Jane. She would’ve been down with the occupy Movement and she would’ve organized the Hull House workers to fight back – never abandoning them as the current board did.

    At the same time all this was happening, the Illinois Legislature tripped over itself yo give HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF PUBLIC DOLLARS to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (home of the 1%) and Sears (a dying business). We found money to bail them out. Shame on Illinois.

    Shame on America’s toothless and powerless nonprofit sector. You are truly fiddling while Rome is burning.

  • Louise W. Knight

    Thank you for this very thoughtful piece. It captures the gist of Hull House as Addams created it and sustained it, and the gist of what Hull House later became. Cohen has done a fine job of studying up on his subject.

    One additional point should be made: the role of the board of trustees was key — that is to say its failure. When Addams was alive, there were five on the board, including herself as chair. They were all major donors and her good friends. By the time the doors of Hull House closed the board was huge — I believe as large as 50 people — and its sense of itself as a governing board, with true fiduciary responsibilities, was diluted. Some very strong and responsible board members had tried to sound the alarm regarding the mounting debt, but leadership would not listen. The board is where the buck stops, and while many very devoted, generous people were on the board, it did not come together to save Hull House in the ten years before the agency had to close. This is perhaps the most important lesson to be drawn from the Hull House story. No organization will survive a board that does not act collectively to protect and nurture its organization. My experience as a consultant with nonprofit boards over more than 15 years confirms this truth, as much as the story of Hull House does.

    As a biographer of Jane Addams and an historian of Hull House, I would add that Addams sought gifts to fund Hull House from the day its doors opened. She paid for about half of its operations in the first year, but a steadily declining percentage of those costs after that. And while there was no government funding for settlement houses in her day, United Way’s precursor, the Community Chest, became active while she was alive, and she refused to take any funds from that source. She wanted the freedom to allow the settlement house’s programs to be flexible and to avoid restricting participation according to income. Once settlement houses accepted these restrictions, they in essence abandoned their original mission of bridging the social gap between the classes and offering cultural and educational and recreational activities that governments generally have no interest in supporting. Of course, some settlement houses have managed to hang on to the arts and other humanistic activities, thanks to the generosity of individual donors.

    In my piece about Hull House’s closing in the Nation, I touch on some of these same issues, which Cohen also astutely notes.http://www.thenation.com/article/165848/chicagos-hull-house-closes-its-doors-time-revive-settl ement-model

    Louise W. Knight
    http://www.louisewknight.com (for more information about my biographies of Jane Addams)
    my nonprofit consulting website: http://www.LKnightConsulting.com

  • Adrienne Bitoy Jackson

    I have been waiting for someone to provide a post mortem on the demise of the Jane Addams Hull House Association. Thank you for providing some insight. Let me add that I had the opportunity to collaborate with some of the members of its executive team from 2000-2003, and I have not met a more dedicated, committed group. They knew their mission and share their visons for the future. However, when there is an organization with a history of a hundred years valued community service; it should be regarded as an anchoring institution and community asset. As individual who has a great deal of experience in fundraising and nonprofit development, there comes a time where every nonprofit needs to add a social enterprise strategy and business model as a component to its operations to maintain sustainability. It is essential for survival. RIP Jane Addams Hull House, you will be missed.

  • rick cohen

    Thanks for the additional information about the Hull House board and the its funding history. I hope our readers read your piece in the Nation which adds a lot more than I was able to get to.

  • rick cohen

    Thanks for the insight and the personal experience. It struck me that their business model was lurching from one saving idea to the next. There’s so much more to the Hull House story, it’s great that NPQ readers are filling in the gaps.

  • rick cohen

    Yes, I agree with you that Jane Addams would have been organizing the employees. That’s how it struck me after reading 20 Years at Hull House. I didn’t know that none of the Jane Addams-named organizations did anything to intervene with Hull House as it declined. The juxtaposition with the state interventions with the Mercantile Exchange and Sears with what happened or didn’t happen with Hull House is certainly quite intruiging.

  • rick cohen

    Thanks for the comment. The end-game was quick but also very prolonged in some ways. Some of our correspondents have mentioned problems in management that go back many years. Like another commenter on this article noted, the board issue merits more attention and analysis. I hope other readers add their thoughts as to what was happening at Hull House, particularly on the governance side.

  • Woods Bowman

    There was no good reason for HH to close. Many younger, smaller nonprofits with less of a name and equally dependent on government financing have survived the economic downturn. I analyzed 10 years of its 990 reports (up through 2009, the most recent on Guidestar) and found that gifts as a percent of expenses were up and receivables as a percent of expenses were down. Its deficits were not exploding but they were persistent. Maybe there are details that the media did not report that could cause me to change my opinion, I am sure that tighter management and reorganization in Chapter 11 could have saved it.

  • Michael Zisser

    University Settlement Society of New York, the oldest settlement in the country (yes, older than Hull House or Henry Street or any of the others), is in fact flourishing, maintaining both the spirit and intent of its origins and still reflecting the principles on which settlements were established. At the same time, it continues to grow as a dynamic, exciting organization within its community. Hull House failed not because of its model or the visions of its founder, but because of people who made bad judgments and trends which were not fully understood.

  • rick cohen

    Dear Michael: yes, I agree with your concept in a very fundamental way: it is clear that the multiple generations of leadership of Hull House seemed unable to understand the trends that were happening around it and therefore unable to find adaptations of the Hull House settlement model to contemporary societal changes. The programmatic lurches this way and that suggested a floundering effort to try to find reasons for survival rather than examining how society was changing and what that meant for the necessary adaptations within the settlement house model. Thanks for your observation.

  • Deona Hooper, MSW

    The fact that a staple of the Social Work profession closed without any sound is very telling of a lack of support from the profession.

  • Carmen Delgado Votaw

    The unseemly demise of Hull House and the fascinating deeds of its founder, Jane Addams, add a chapter in the history of nonprofits that gives us pause. Where, indeed, is the wisdom to process such a story and derive some ideas for other organizations that may be facing the contemporary quandaries of viability?
    The richness of the article by Rick Cohen suggests there should be further exploration of possible paths to viability as well as historical preservation of this case file.
    Carmen Delgado Votaw