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When Michael Robb arrived at the Center for Community Resources Inc., the nonprofit was nearing bankruptcy. For a regional human services organization on which so many in the community relied, he knew there was no time to waste in getting CCR back on track to revenue growth.
Much like CCR’s mission to help the people of Butler County connect with organizations and better their lives, Robb spent much of his time understanding CCR’s employees, their jobs and the portions of the organization that needed help in order to move CCR forward.
One of the first steps he took after being named executive director in 2005 was getting a handle on the organization’s culture and structure. The two critical elements one must evaluate in a turnaround situation are how things are getting done and what is the philosophy behind the things that are being accomplished, Robb says.
To understand those elements, you have to be out in the business gathering information. Robb spoke to his board of directors and asked their perspective on where they thought CCR stood and where it needed to head. He consulted with the leadership team already in place. And he spoke to employees without managers present about what their jobs in the field entailed.
Robb didn’t make it an investigative process but an engaging one. How often do you hear employees say, “How does management make decisions when they don’t even understand what our job involves?” Robb made sure to start the conversations with the framework that he was there to understand in order to help employees and to better the organization.
The idea also plays into Robb’s belief that in a turnaround situation, leaders have to be visible. While Robb’s office was at one CCR location, he made a point to work from the organization’s other location, even if it meant setting up in a conference room and even if it meant being kicked out when staff needed the room. Instead of locking yourself behind a closed door, being visible gives employees a sense of ease and allows them to concentrate on their jobs and not the state of the organization.
While talking to board members, leadership and employees, Robb received feedback that helped him create a strategy for the organization’s future.
When discussing the future of the organization, you have to be clear and honest with employees about what the problem is and how it is going to be fixed. Robb explained to his staff that the company had a challenge ahead. The changes weren’t going to be easy. They weren’t a reflection of the staff or individual people but where the organization needed to go in order to be successful.
Robb was able to successfully implement the organization’s needed changes, including better managed finances. In just five years, CCR has grown from 52 staff members to 89, and it has a growing annual budget.
However, the success hasn’t stopped there. In understanding the needs of the residents of Butler County and those who serve them, Robb and his team founded two new nonprofit organizations.
In 2008, Alliance for Nonprofit Resources Inc. was formed. And in March, the Nonprofit Development Corp. was established. The two nonprofits, of which Robb serves as executive director and his senior management team at CCR also oversee, were created to help fellow nonprofits with back-end support and property management. The two organizations combined employ about 40 people, and they continue to grow and give other nonprofits in the area a network of support that allows them to focus on their mission.
As the executive director of the three organizations, Robb oversees 19 programs, which are available to more than 180,000 residents in the region. His innovative thinking has helped the organizations form partnerships at the county, regional and state level to provide more advanced services, including utility assistance, transportation, homeless housing, education and outreach, and shared services for nonprofit providers.
Among Robb’s and the organizations’ current efforts are working to establish a regional Deaf Case Management program for 12 counties, a case management program for returning veterans and their families, and creating an integrated information and referral database system for Butler County, and eventually, the entire region.
For Robb, balancing the duties involved with running three organizations comes down to understanding the priorities of each one and ensuring that he is surrounded by a reliable team. Robb has pointed to the organizations’ boards of directors, his senior leadership team and his nearly 130 employees when it comes to the overall success of CCR, ANR and NDC.