October 5, 2018; Crain’s Chicago Business
Thirteen women formed YWCA Metropolitan Chicago in 1876 to meet the needs of single women coming to Chicago for work during the years following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Today, that same YWCA works with 1871, a Silicon Valley-like incubator for Chicago’s digital startup community, whose name celebrates the innovations that rebuilt Chicago after the fire and helped reshape the modern world.
Dorri McWhorter is the leader confidently bringing Chicago’s YWCA into the 21st century with a new look, new programs, more inspiring staff titles, and increased salaries.
To signal to everyone that disruption was on the horizon, her initial move was to add men to the board, the first in the organization’s history. She assembled a C-level team of program officers, all women, and gave them titles straight out of 1871. McFeders, for instance, is chief paradigm officer. There’s also a chief empowerment officer, reimagination officer, innovation officer and possibility officer (she handles human resources). McWhorter purged marketing materials of unsmiling clients and replaced them with photos of women with hopeful and happy faces. “The women were looking so depressed,” McWhorter says of the “poverty porn” shots. At its nine locations, bright persimmon, the organization’s signature color, enlivened dull interiors. An iPad-powered sign-in tool replaced paper sheets. It helps YWCA track and store more information on who’s visiting and why, the better to connect them with more services.
To meet its annual $23 million budget, the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago receives about $12 million in federal, state, and other government funding. The entrepreneurial initiatives that inspired Crain’s Chicago Business to take notice raise a fraction of the balance of the budget. One such business is YShop, the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago’s online store offering a curated selection of goods and services. After that, the ideas get more ambitious and unusual for the nonprofit sector. For McWhorter, “nonprofit is a tax status, not a business model.”
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For example, Impact Shares, with McWhorter and her team (on behalf of the YWCA federation’s 210 affiliates in 46 states), launched an exchange-traded fund (ETF) on the New York Stock Exchange that enables investors to invest in companies whose practices are aligned with gender-equality standards. Impact Shares donates its net advisory fees from the WOMN ETF to the YWCA.
Crain’s reports that McWhorter’s next innovation will be a Mastercard prepaid debit card to be offered by this January to its clients—“We treat constituents as consumers, not just people who need us,” McWhorter says—and to the small-business owners who provide the YWCA child care centers.
The card issuer, Mobility Capital Finance, will report on-time rent payments to credit bureaus, thus helping clients boost their credit scores. YWCA is putting the finishing touches on an app that will help users access the agency’s services from their mobile phones.
Through the years, it seems NPQ has reported more often than not on YWCAs failing rather than thriving. Neither has NPQ been bashful about calling out Silicon Valley’s grandiosity and peculiar take on philanthropy. This Crain’s article, entitled “Managing a 140-year-old nonprofit like it’s a startup,” is a welcome message to be celebrated. But let’s also remember that the government still funds more than half the annual revenue for YWCA Metropolitan Chicago. It’ll be interesting to see how this new “non-nonprofit” model fares.—Jim Schaffer