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Stephen Saunders, who took control of Hull House’s board 18 months ago, when, he says, the organization was already in deep crisis.
He estimates that the charity’s debt was approximately -million and growing, owed to vendors and landlords all over Chicago, where the association’s programs in foster care, child care, domestic violence, job training, homeless services, small-business development and other areas pepper Chicago’s urban landscape.
The organization operated during its final nine months without a CEO, he says, after the top executive left in the spring.
Though it tried to find merger partners in its final two months, Hull House simply had too much debt, Mr. “We had new board members who were more corporate in their experience,” says Mr. “They didn’t understand that the reason the staff members like me were staying positive in attitude was that we are very used to social-service agencies being always on the brink of destruction.
They bailed out too soon.” The culture gap between staff and the board was evident in fundraising issues, he says.
“Hull House is not an isolated situation,” says Irv Katz, president of National Human Services Assembly, an umbrella group for social-service charities.
“I have witnessed a couple national groups that should have merged, but, out of stubbornness or arrogance, allowed themselves to go too far down the tube rather than look for a partner.” When the news broke that Metropolitan Family Services would take over serving some of Hull House’s 14,000 clients, three other charities approached Metropolitan’s leader, Ricardo (Ric) Estrada. I have no doubt that we will see more closures.” Social-service nonprofits that are surviving the economic downturn, Mr. They “have strong boards, with civic leaders who have been asking the hard questions as well as contributing financially themselves,” he says.“If 123-year-old Hull House, with its revered name and legacy, can be taken down, then any organization is at risk.” Mr.Mazany sees a “slow-motion train wreck” ahead, and organizations with revenue between -million and -million are likely to face an especially hard time coping with the economic downturn.Missteps by the group’s leadership, say inside and outside observers, also contributed to the fate of the organization.Whatever the particular details of Hull House’s story, it may be only the highest-profile casualty so far of forces that could reshape urban social-service groups nationwide. The full effect of the recession is just now being felt,” says Terry Mazany, chief executive of the Chicago Community Trust.A few months ago, I had an idea about linking the principle of Acorns and penny rounding transactions with attacking personal debt.