City Seeks To “Transform” Not-For-Profits’ Work

New Haven is home to nearly 400 not-for-profits generating $700 million in annual revenue. Throw in Yale University and Yale-New Haven Hospital, and the revenue grows to $7 billion.

Yet the city still struggles to make progress on the issues these groups address: jobs, education, crime and poverty.

More than 60 people immersed in the city’s not-for-profit world broke bread and began talking about how to work together to make better use of all that money and the resources they generate—including a new batch of poverty-targeting money coming into New Haven.

The conversation took place Tuesday night at Immanuel Baptist Church at Chapel and Day streets. The impetus for having the conversation was the city’s mad dash to pull together an application to become a federally designated “Promise Zone,” a process that in recent months has brought together not-for-profit people from around town. The Harp administration is looking to make that process a vehicle to chart a broader “transformation” in the way New Haven’s sprawling not-for-profits tackle the city’s hard-core social challenges—whether or not the Promise Zone designation comes through.

“This is not about a grant,” said consultant Jim Farnam (pictured), an organizer of the Promise Zone process and a former city development official. “It’s about a plan to transform the city.”

New Haven scrambled in November to apply to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to designate much of New Haven (most neighborhoods outside Westville, East Rock, and downtown) a “Promise Zone.” HUD is designating those zones in 15 cities by 2016. Winning cities get a leg up in qualifying for 35 federal grant programs; AmeriCorps volunteers; tax incentives to lure businesses (assuming Congress OKs the money); and “help in addressing federal regulatory or other barriers.”

Unlike with previous federal anti-poverty assistance programs—including the “Enterprise Zone” and “Empowerment Zone” designations the city won in the 1990s—there is no specific money attached to being designated a “Promise Zone. It does make available tax breaks to businesses and requires that those participating work together and innovate.

New Haven is being considered by HUD in the second round of applications; designations are expected to be announced in the spring.

But the city is not waiting on the announcement to get the ball rolling.

Markeshia Ricks PhotoCity Community Service Administrator Martha Okafor (pictured) said New Haven has 367 not-for-profit organizations working on the city’s toughest issues. Meanwhile, 43 percent of students read below basic levels; 44 percent of students are chronically absent from school; nearly 50 percent of residents meet the threshold for poverty or are low-income; and at least 14 percent are unemployed. While crime is down in New Haven, it still exceeds average statewide levels.

Okafor said her boss, Mayor Toni Harp, believes that given the wealth of resources in New Haven, “we should be provoked to do something different.” She said everyone was brought together Tuesday night to define that “something different.”

“Whatever we have been doing, we haven’t moved the needle,” she said. “We’re asking what else should we do so that we can begin to move this needle.”

Tuesday night, participants in the meeting were challenged by two scenarios based on the real experiences of New Haven families. Both scenarios featured working mothers juggling multiple responsibilities that were stalling their ability to advance at work.

The participants’ task: Look at the resources of their individual organizations and determine how they might help; then remove the barriers of what an individual organization can do and collectively create some solutions.

Andy Orefice with Yale-New Haven Hospital (pictured) and his group determined that it might be nice to have software that helps with case management across organizations. (Groups collaborating on an ending-homeless challenge in New Haven succeeded with that strategy.)

Earle Lobo (pictured) and his group decided that agencies need to collaborate on a comprehensive assessment of New Haven families

Amos Smith, president and CEO of the Community Action Agency of New Haven, and his group homed in on the fact that there are virtually no services for helping a 26-year-old African-American man who is dealing with depression, unemployed and caring for a chronically ill child, which was part of one of the scenarios.

“The only system designed to address this person is the criminal justice system,” Smith said.

Sherman Malone (pictured) of the New Haven Family Alliance said that a barrier that the city might want to try to work on is the “fee for service” model that so many organizations employ. She said if you’re of a certain age, and not poor enough, there are no services for you that won’t cost something out of pocket.

“People are turned away so often from some sort of resource before they’ve ever listened to the problem,” she said.

Farnam said the next step will be to develop three or four working groups to meet through April to strategize on creating jobs; increasing economic activity; improving educational opportunities; reducing serious or violent crime; building community health and social cohesion; and improving housing and the physical environment.

Post a Comment

Commenting has closed for this entry


posted by: wendy1 on February 12, 2015  12:53pm


Yale Corp. could easily place us on the fed.list but they dont give a damn about our poverty and never will until the city steps on their neck.

I gave a speech 2 weeks ago at city hall by invitation that only 15 people heard, presenting a housing solution for the over 1000 homeless folks.

Elections next year, so expect more dog and pony shows.

posted by: heightster77 on February 12, 2015  12:54pm

Here’s a crazy outside the box thinking. How about they pay their fair share of taxes. No such think as a not for profit, as Yale sits on billions in endowments.

posted by: Theodora on February 12, 2015  1:28pm

In a city that is looking to redirect funds from its own responsibility of educating all its children, I would hope that non-profits are not swayed to do the work of the city or have the city try to redirect their missions.

If Mayor Harp does the right thing and slaps down this ridiculous proposal from Achievement First, maybe then she will be worth listening to. If she doesn’t, may she be a one-termer.

posted by: Elizabethaiken on February 12, 2015  1:35pm

Evaluate the 400 non-profits in the city. Which ones are effective. Find out why they are effective. Which ones are ineffective? Find out why they are ineffective. Try to build on EFECTIVE delivery of services. There is a lot of money that is wasted. Put it to better use.

posted by: 32knot on February 12, 2015  2:13pm

The non-profits do not have to show a result or be effecient. they have no expectations to meet or else go out of business. they just exist and absorb $$$. no denying the good intentions they all have but good intentions are very hard to measure. with over 400 in the city i am sure there is lots of duplication of effort and no doubt a bit of featherbedding. its a great idea to try to coordinate the efforts, we might be able to identify the duplications and eliminate the non-performers.

why do some insist on blaming Yale for all the ills of the city. Yale doesn’t exist to solve the city’s problems!  Although it can be said that parts of Yale’s efforts are solely for Yale’s benifit, Yale has proven it is not anti-New Haven yet a signifcant portion of the city is anti-Yale. the city should be less knee jerk and blame Yale and try a lot harder to solve its own problems with its own resources before saying yale could solve it if it would just give some more $$$$$.

posted by: Noteworthy on February 12, 2015  2:43pm

A lesson learned a long time ago - when they say it’s not about the money….it’s about the money.

posted by: darlene on February 12, 2015  3:35pm

Does the revenue noted reflect the lost property tax income for non-profits that own buildings?

posted by: robn on February 12, 2015  9:50pm


Good question but a much bigger one is how much of that revenue is taxpayer dollars coming out of state and city coffers through black budgeting nested within “service allocation”?. In other words, many of these organizations are de facto extensions of an already unaffordable government.

posted by: Noteworthy on February 13, 2015  9:03am

Want to know the ugly truth? What we really need is fewer non-profits, less duplicative services and more results. Is there not a legitimate question as to the efficacy of what is being provided if the results never improve? Or if those getting the services just replicate? Is that even part of the conversation? That might cause some angina unless this is about the money. Really.

posted by: Mitchell Young on February 13, 2015  5:23pm

I don’t know what I want to think about the cynicism of the comments posted. I guess I’m happy that not just big corporations and business people are being held in disrepute. Now it’s also people that help drug addicts, the homeless, low income seniors, children with cancer, tutor students, help non-english speakers and the poorly educated learn to read, train folks to run daycares, care for and educate pre-school kids, etc. I understand there is a lot of anger in society today and I am sure many of the folks in the city’s non-profits could do a better job I’m sure. Its widely understood I am not a booster but this is an effort that should be supported as well many of the non-profits themselves that work in this city. Many of these people formed organizations, joined and work on boards, because they truly care about other people.  Maybe it will be you or a cousin, or parent or friend, or just another citizen that is helped in some way. Lighten up folks. yes, some are the children of privilege as are many of you - a little respect for others would be a worthy approach. How about it?

posted by: Mitchell Young on February 13, 2015  5:26pm

One last thing _ I noticed not one of the commenters posts under their actual name. Perhaps if you did you would more judiciously use your words - and have to be more responsible for what you say, your neighbors and others in the community.

posted by: Adelaide on February 14, 2015  4:03am

I really wish the city would take a long hard look at these non-profits.THey need to be held accountable for their lack of results.Judging by the number of non-profits, this city should be utopia!!

posted by: anonymous on February 14, 2015  4:44pm

The number of non-profits in New Haven is identical to what you would find in any other U.S. city of this size.

Claiming that there are “more non-profits per capita” than any other city is exactly like claiming that New Haven has more doctors per capita, more library books per capita, more theaters per capita, more jobs per capita, or more crime per capita, than virtually anywhere else. All true - but only because New Haven as a municipality is so small in land area.  Very few U.S. city boundaries end as soon as you’ve walked two miles from downtown; CT municipalities are the only places that do that because their boundaries are based on old church parishes.

posted by: Noteworthy on February 15, 2015  1:34pm

@anonymous - You have no idea him many non-profits you would find in other cities - More? Less? Per capita? Nobody said anything about a per capita count or even a “correct” number of non-profits.

@Mitchell Young - Comments are cynical? I don’t see it that way. When you leverage $700 million against social problems in a small city like New Haven - should we not see positive results for that investment?  It’s our investment too because there are no sales or property taxes - citizens absorb those taxes. Is there any effort to solve vs. just provide services?

It’s been my experience, that those who criticize the tone or content of what people post with words like “cynicism or negativity” are generally those who are more interested in having a cheering section than a conversation about issues. Are some cynical? Sure. But if they are, perhaps it’s reflective of how City Hall has treated them, or manipulated public disclosures or routinely ignored their public testimony.

Your argument for people using real names is really tired. There are reasons why people don’t and they’re opinions shouldn’t be tainted by whatever choice they make. Their comments should stand on the merit and nothing else.

posted by: anonymous on February 16, 2015  9:13am

Noteworthy, you can look up how many nonprofits are in other cities and what their revenues are, because it is all public information.

posted by: robn on February 16, 2015  11:34am


That’s an excellent question. According to the National Center For Charitable Statistics, Connecticut is 19th highest in the US for nonprofits per capita (link to list below…I re-sorted it myself in Excel…I excluded DC because its status as capital makes it a statistical outlier). What this list doesn’t reflect is a distinction between social service non-profits and other types like medical, educational and arts. Nor does this list reflect that the sole purpose of many non-profit foundations is to raise money that they give to other non-profits (United Way is a good example) thereby skewing your impression about where dollars might be going.

In any event, given that our state is very small with much wealth outside of few poor urban centers and given that so many social service non-profits are clearly in New Haven (I guessed that by looking at the phone book), its very plausible that we could be much higher on that list.

Caveat (what I can’t quite fathom is that this article notes 400 non-profits in New Haven which is 2% of the NCCS’s total, whereas NH has 3.6% of CT’s population. This might be accounted for by the scale of budgets but I’m speculating.)

posted by: wendy1 on February 21, 2015  12:48pm

I would rather hand $20 to a man on the street than to a non-profit…and that’s what I do when able, also food and clothing at times.

Pay attention to people sharing the sidewalk with you in town and then tell me the NP’s are doing their job.  And by the way, the biggest one in town does the least.