Q&A With Marisa Nicely, VP Clinical and Youth Services, Starfish Family Services
As a leading provider of mental health services for children, youth and families, Starfish Family Services (“Starfish”) is at the forefront of a growing movement in healthcare. After decades of divide, it is now commonly accepted that behavioral health is a key component to achieving improved health outcomes. An overwhelming body of evidence supports the importance of early intervention through integrated health services, particularly in children, to develop resiliency and to mitigate the negative effect on later-life health and well-being.These initiatives can ultimately result in improved health outcomes and significant systemic cost savings.
In May 2015, Starfish and Mission Throttle embarked on a journey to create a comprehensive business strategy to scale several of its core service offerings and preventive interventions, in order to further its cohesive mission of “investing early in the lives of families to prevent problems before they escalate.”
We talked to Marisa Nicely, VP Clinical and Youth Services about the project.
Q: Tell us more about your mission and how your organization has evolved. What made you decide to start considering market-based strategies to further your mission?
Our mission at Starfish Family Services is “Strengthening Families to Create Brighter Futures for Children.” The roots of our organization were in adoption/foster care and mental health, but as we evolved, our founder, Dr. Ouida Cash recognized the importance of “working with our families upstream rather than to try to pull them out of a fast-moving river.” Over the past 15 years, our organization has shifted its focus from intervention to prevention services with a focus on young children and their families. Mental Health services are key to the mission of Starfish Family Services. Our leadership team believes that given the current competitive and unpredictable health care environment, Starfish has to be on the cutting edge of both quality and innovation to execute. We look to do this by refining our business operations. Additionally, by establishing our value proposition and examining our current operations for efficacy and relevance, we are positioning ourselves to be valuable players in the future of health care.
Q: How has thinking more like a business/social enterprise expanded solutions to our community’s problems? How has it helped your organization?
Mission Throttle helped us think not just in terms of delivering services but in meeting the needs of our customers. As a result, we are piloting several entrepreneurial ventures in the areas of trauma informed care and integrated health care in order to increase the number of people we serve in the most impactful and efficient way.
Q: Has this mindset opened you up to new forms of revenue? How will these funds help your organization in ways grants can’t?
This mindset has allowed us to recognize factors such as the cost of acquisition of clients and processes as ways to increase revenue by lowering costs and increasing efficiency. We have also developed an entrepreneurial mindset related to our program and service innovations, such as charging for technical assistance and consulting services.
Q: Do you have advice for other mission driven organizations that are looking to embrace an entrepreneurial mindset?
A barrier for nonprofits will always be staff capacity to invest time into the project. Committing to the time investment was difficult but it has proven invaluable to our organization. The professional development benefits to our leadership team have been tremendous. We are operating at a more sophisticated level and looking at things through a lens that allows us to better balance mission and margin.
Mission Throttle Selected by W.K. Kellogg Foundation to Help Grant Partners Create Framework for Growth and Innovation
Mission Throttle has been selected by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) to provide advisory services to a cohort of its Michigan-based community partners. With support from WKKF, Mission Throttle is collaborating with Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative (ELNC), COLORS Detroit, and Grand Rapids Urban League (GRUL) to develop pathways for their sustainability and growth.
The engagements are designed to enhance each organization’s operational effectiveness, and enable them to meet existing and future funding needs by developing innovative, diversified revenue strategies.
“In 2010, ELNC made a commitment to make quality early learning opportunities available and accessible to vulnerable families living within in our target neighborhoods,” said Dr. Nkechy Ekere Ezeh, Founder & CEO of ELNC. “We promised parents that we wouldn’t start something that we couldn’t sustain. In order to do that we needed to develop a sustainable business plan based on intentional strategies aimed at advancing racial equity in early childhood education. We greatly appreciated the fact that Mission Throttle was there to help guide us through the process while providing expertise and a valuable external perspective.”
Mission Throttle is working with ELNC, COLORS Detroit and GRUL to create customized, long-term solutions for critical social issues by using creative market-based approaches. The organizations that Mission Throttle works with, and their pioneering leaders, simultaneously look to increase their financial stability, along with the social and/or environmental stability of their communities.
“We applaud WKKF’s commitment to prioritizing preventive solutions and capacity building investments, and are thrilled to collaborate with their community partners to identify initiatives that promote operational excellence,” said Susan Gordon, Managing Director of Advisory Services for Mission Throttle.
Mission Throttle has also begun working with five of WKKF’s Battle Creek community partners — Burma Center, Generation E Institute, Urban League of Battle Creek, VOCES and Woman’s Co-op — to identify opportunities to accelerate their impact on the community.
About Mission Throttle
Mission Throttle is a social impact strategy firm dedicated to accelerating philanthropic innovation in communities. We advise, invest in, and support mission-driven organizations that seek to use market-based strategies to address social and environmental challenges. We are deeply passionate about our work and believe that merging business solutions and philanthropic values is critical to sustain and scale social impact for those in need. For more information visit www.missionthrottle.com
About W.K. Kellogg Foundation
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation by breakfast cereal pioneer, Will Keith Kellogg, is among the largest philanthropic foundations in the United States. Guided by the belief that all children should have an equal opportunity to thrive, WKKF works with communities to create conditions for vulnerable children so they can realize their full potential in school, work and life. The Kellogg Foundation is based in Battle Creek, Michigan, and works throughout the United States and internationally, as well as with sovereign tribes. Special emphasis is paid to priority places where there are high concentrations of poverty and where children face significant barriers to success. WKKF priority places in the U.S. are in Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico and New Orleans; and internationally, are in Mexico and Haiti. For more information, visit www.wkkf.org.
Mission Throttle Teams with Michigan Women’s Foundation to Increase Access to Detroit’s Microloan System
The Michigan Women’s Foundation (MWF) has selected Mission Throttle to analyze the market demand for expanding its existing Microloan Fund. The Michigan Women’s Microloan Fund provides start-up and growth capital to women entrepreneurs and small business owners.
Existing and new business owners in Detroit are greatly in need of capital to spur the growth of their businesses, yet conventional monies, even those from CDFIs, often do not meet the needs of these individuals. Many business owners are in need of smaller loans (less than $25,000), which most financial institutions are challenged to provide. MWF has successfully demonstrated its ability to deploy micro-loans ranging from $5,000 – $50,000; this success is closely tied to the invaluable education and mentoring programs that complement its loans.
While this funding gap is commonly acknowledged, most intermediaries are unable to provide the entrepreneurs with the breadth of technical assistance and resources to fully activate their ideas. Mission Throttle and MWF will work in partnership to expand access to the Detroit micro-loan ecosystem, and identify opportunities to further develop this critical piece of the funding continuum in Detroit.
“MWF is keenly aware that this program needs to be scaled to meet the demand for capital. As a result, MWF is eager to develop the financial and operational infrastructure necessary to promote women-owned businesses, and to create positive economic impact for the city of Detroit,” said Carolyn Cassin, President & CEO, Michigan Women’s Foundation. “By providing women who are starting and growing their businesses with the support they need, MWF works to eliminate barriers to economic and social equality and helps build a stronger entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
“We believe in creating sustainable, replicable solutions to complex problems,” said Susan Gordon, Managing Director of Advisory Services for Mission Throttle. “It is our hope that the result of this collaboration with Michigan Women’s Foundation will not only benefit women-owned businesses in the city of Detroit, but provide a model that will help open doors to economic opportunities for women throughout Michigan.”
About Mission Throttle
Mission Throttle is an advisory firm dedicated to accelerating philanthropic innovation in our community. We advise, invest in, and support mission-driven organizations that seek to use market-based strategies to address social and environmental problems. We are deeply passionate about our work and believe that merging business solutions and philanthropic values is the best approach to achieve sustainable social impact.
About Michigan Women’s Foundation
With a 31-year history of high-impact work, Michigan Women’s Foundation is devoted to fostering economic empowerment for Michigan’s women and girls through philanthropy and investment. In response to a compelling need for women to further advance their social, economic and professional well-being, MWF and its partners and supporters are committed to creating financial and intellectual improvements for women and girls.
Mission Throttle Selected by the Skillman Foundation to Develop Sustainable Solutions for Grant Partners
Mission Throttle partnered with the Skillman Foundation in January 2016 to pilot “The Sustainability Grant Challenge.” The challenge was designed to provide a Skillman Foundation grant partner that demonstrated a desire to strengthen and scale one or more of its programs, with professional assistance not normally accessible to a community-based nonprofit due to cost. The Skillman Foundation invited 25 grant partners to participate in the challenge, which benchmarked organizations using a survey designed to assess operational effectiveness, based on Mission Throttle’s proprietary scoring system. Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation was selected as the recipient of the Skillman Sustainability Grant and will work with Mission Throttle to develop a blueprint to enhance their organizational efficiency and effectiveness, develop sustainable revenue models and funding strategies, and achieve increased scale. “We believe in the work of our grant partners, and know they face challenges every day that make it difficult to best deliver their needed services,” said Patricia Hinojosa, Senior Program Officer, Social Innovation for the Skillman Foundation. “By helping to strengthen organizations, they can more effectively serve the community and be drivers of change.”
Conventional philanthropy typically funds direct program related support and often neglects the critical costs of infrastructure. Experience has shown that proper operating systems and human capital are essential for sustained operational excellence. Recognizing this gap, Mission Throttle is working with Foundations across Michigan on similar nonprofit enterprise building initiatives.
About Mission Throttle
Mission Throttle is an advisory firm dedicated to accelerating philanthropic innovation in our community. We advise, invest in, and support mission-driven organizations that seek to use market-based strategies to address social and environmental problems. We are deeply passionate about our work and believe that merging business principles and philanthropic values is the best approach to achieve sustainable social impact.
About the Skillman Foundation
Created in 1960, the Skillman Foundation is a private philanthropy committed to improving meaningful graduation rates in the Detroit region, so kids are ready for college, career, and life. The Foundation has assets of nearly a half-billion dollars, with an annual grants budget of $17 million. The Foundation works to achieve its goal by investing in community leadership, neighborhoods, safety initiatives, high-quality schools, social innovation, and youth development.
About Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation
Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation’s mission is to make a difference by creating life-changing opportunities for youth and their families. We are committed to meeting the needs of our community by providing quality, innovative and culturally appropriate services, primarily in Southwest Detroit. Our vision is to create a stable and safe community where youth and families have quality opportunities for self-empowerment, education, and personal wealth.