Case study: How community involvement strengthened Hamilton East Kiwanis Non-Profit Homes
Hamilton East Kiwanis Non-Profit Homes took an unprecedented route for a non-profit when they embarked on an overdue substantive review of their vision, mission and values. They chose to involve their community and stakeholders in the development of their new strategic plan.
Brian Sibley, the executive director at Kiwanis Homes, said the stakeholder consultations were invaluable in helping their organization move from “who we are” to “who we should be” to continue being a relevant and effective housing provider.
The best result to come out of this process, Brian said, was that many neighbourhood groups, who previously had no affiliation with their organization, now view them as partners and regularly consult them on matters related to affordable housing.
Brian shared some insights with ONPHA into how fellow non-profit housing providers can incorporate, and benefit from, community involvement while developing their strategic plan.
How to know if involving your community is right for your organization?
1) Identify outstanding factors
Kiwanis Homes identified the following outstanding factors that required them to go beyond the standard strategic planning process:
- Sustainability: Kiwanis Homes is essentially 100 per cent rent-geared-to-income (RGI). They determined this business model was not sustainable for them on a long-term basis and required a change.
- End of Operating Agreements: 25 per cent of Kiwanis Homes stock would reach its End of Operating Agreement over the next five years. These units are mostly scattered, single family dwellings and are a large potential asset for the organization to leverage. As Kiwanis Homes is the largest residential property owner in Ward 3, any decisions made in leveraging these assets may have an impact on their neighbors, including loss of affordable housing units, gentrification, displacement, property values and change in the neighborhood make-up. Kiwanis Homes felt that they alone did not have the internal capacity to completely assess and understand this impact.
- Resident Demographics: Kiwanis Homes’ profile of residents is quite different from when the organization first began and continues to evolve. Their first priority is to house people and they wanted to ensure they understood who their community was in order to meet their needs.
After identifying these factors, Kiwanis Homes knew that it would be far more beneficial to involve their community in the planning process.
2) Ask Yourself Some Key Questions
- Does your current vision, mission and values adequately reflect what you are currently doing and hope to be doing in the future?
The Kiwanis Homes mission statement was “modest, affordable housing” and they felt it did not capture the value of the services that they provide. As Brian said, “Essentially providing a cardboard box in a back alley would have met our mission statement.” Kiwanis Homes knew the best people to define their mission, services and values are those that receive them.
- Is there an appetite for organizational change?
Change is hard and there are risks associated with it that can be stressful on those involved. There has to be agreeance amongst all – board members, management, staff, etc. – that the change is worth the risk. Kiwanis Homes had this appetite.
- Has there been or will there be a significant change in the operating environment?
In Kiwanis Homes’ case, the end of their operating agreements presented a significant opportunity and a potential risk for their organization. It was essential that they put the right strategy in place to capitalize on this opportunity. They identified that their partners and funders were key contributors in achieving that.
How to solicit stakeholder input
- Hire a facilitator to run meetings
A neutral, independent facilitator can create a safe environment for honest and open conversation between all parties involved (landlords, tenants, etc.).
- Be flexible with your time
Kiwanis Homes’ initial plan was to host larger events for a quicker turnaround but found running more and smaller focus groups allowed for a better level of involvement from a greater variety of individuals. These scheduled 90-minute meetings though often ran 1-2 hours longer than anticipated.
- Use your community partners
Partner organizations are invaluable in coordinating events on your behalf and can bring different perspectives to the table.
- Don’t just expect people to show up
Kiwanis Homes went far beyond simply sending out an invitation. They also offered food, child minding services, giveaways, etc. to ensure they had attendance.
- Get to know your neighbourhood ahead of time
Kiwanis Homes attended neighbourhood meetings in the Gibson/Lansdale, Sherman, Crown Point and South Mountain neighbourhoods for almost a year before starting their consultation process.
- Be transparent
Kiwanis Homes provided feedback – the good and the bad – verbally and in writing so stakeholders knew they were listening.
- Allocate sufficient time for the process
Kiwanis Homes is eight months into their consultation process and are still collecting feedback from new groups.
- Keep a thick skin
People sometimes just need to feel heard and will take this opportunity to vent. It’s best to listen and remain optimistic – the worst thing you can do is be defensive.
How to understand stakeholder input
It’s important when reviewing and hearing feedback to look for and understand the bigger picture of what’s being requested. For example, much of the feedback that Kiwanis Homes received from their tenants included requests for more cameras, lighting, trespassing signs, and other security measures. When asked why, many tenants said that they want to feel safe where they live.
Rather than focusing on static security measures, Kiwanis Homes instead took a more comprehensive approach to the general issue of safety, like conducting Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) surveys and doing asset-based community development and neighbourhood engagement. These actions helped breakdown the bigger issue and will lead to a safer community as a whole.
Kiwanis Homes has received countless amounts of insightful information from conducting the stakeholder sessions. It can be an overwhelming amount of information especially for a modest size organization such as Kiwanis Homes, however, Brian says the greater risk for your organization is to ignore this input and continue business as usual.