Special HSC Commission Will Autopsy Failures in NYC Human Service Groups

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March 11, 2015; The Jewish Week

To examine the reasons for the rash of high-profile closures among large social service nonprofits in New York, two dozen executives of human services nonprofits and other experts have been named to a blue-ribbon commission of the Human Services Council to determine causes of death. Among the groups to be so examined is FEGS, a $250 million health and human services nonprofit that recently closed after announcing that it had lost—in more than one sense of that word—$19.4 million last year.

The commission will convene four or five times as a full body and will forward a set of recommendations to the HSC, which works closely with city and state government. The statement announcing the group reads, in part:

“This Commission will examine the recent closure of several nonprofit human services organizations in an effort to understand the contributing factors from management and oversight to challenging fiscal environments. Lessons learned will be extrapolated and used to inform the development of several sets of recommendations aimed at various audiences, including nonprofit human services managers, nonprofit human services boards, government funders, philanthropy, and auditors. While this examination was triggered by the recent announcement by FEGS of their intention to shut down, the Commission will draw from a variety of examples, which may include such organizations as Alianza Dominicana and Hale House, as well as organizations that have merged.

“Over the course of several months, the group will evaluate the financial details, management decisions, government contract terms, and accountability systems of these organizations to gain a full picture and understanding of what caused them to close. They will also examine existing oversight approaches, including those required and those considered best practices, investigate the financial and other management decisions made, and identify funding and other systemic issues contributing to financial problems.

“The group will begin meeting this month, solidifying its purpose and developing a roadmap for getting there. We are grateful to all the Commission members for agreeing to dedicate time and resources to this effort and are proud HSC is playing this important leadership role on behalf of the sector. 

There are some well-known names on the commission. Gordon Campbell, the former president and CEO of United Way of New York City who now teaches at the NYU Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, will chair the commission. Many of the other names are both familiar and respected in way that is grounded in practice:

  • Douglas Bauer, The Clark Foundation
  • Antony Bugg-Levine, Nonprofit Finance Fund
  • Joel Copperman, CASES
  • Don Crocker, Support Center for Nonprofit Management
  • Fred Davie, Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York
  • Sean Delany, Lawyers Alliance for New York
  • Julie Floch, Eisner Amper
  • Eric Goldstein, UJA-Federation of New York
  • Jack Krauskopf, Baruch School of Public Affairs
  • Thomas Krever, Hetrick-Martin Institute
  • Katie Leonberger, Community Resource Exchange
  • John Macintosh, SeaChange Capital Partners
  • Dianne Morales, Phipps Neighborhoods
  • Gail Nayowith, Consultant
  • Mitchell Netburn, Project Renewal, Inc.
  • Jim Purcell, Council of Family and Child Care Agencies
  • Joanne M. Oplustil, CAMBA
  • Hilda Polanco, Fiscal Management Associates
  • Allison Sesso, Human Services Council
  • Fred Shack, Urban Pathways
  • Marla Simpson, Brooklyn Community Services
  • Patricia Swann, The New York Community Trust
  • Kathryn Wylde, Partnership for New York City
  • Michael Zisser, University Settlement

This is an interesting effort, though we are always somewhat wary of the product of committees on sensitive investigations. In other words, we hope that nothing is watered down because the results of this commission should be very, very rich. We’d love to hear about similar efforts elsewhere if they exist.—Ruth McCambridge