Featured Listening Post | The Andrus Children’s Center

By on November 12, 2008

This post is one in a series of Featured Listening Posts highlighting Listening Post Project participants employing innovative strategies and techniques to address the key challenges we have analyzed in recent Listening Post Soundings.
Founded in 1928 as an orphanage, the Andrus Children’s Center is in its 80th year of serving children and families. The Center has a 110-acre campus that offers residential and day treatment services for 150 children. It also provides mental health services through community clinics, school-based initiatives and after-school programs across eight sites in Westchester County, helping 2,500 children and families. With a budget of $30 million, the organization primarily relies on funds from the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (25 percent of its revenues) and the New York State Education Department (23 percent). Other key funding sources include Medicaid (18 percent), government and non-government contracts, fees (15 percent), and private funding sources, including foundations (14 percent).
The Listening Post Project selected the Andrus Center as a Featured Listening Post because of the innovative web-based curriculum it described in the Nonprofit Recruitment and Retention Sounding. To learn more about the organization, this innovation, and its involvement with the Listening Post Project, we spoke with Nancy Woodruff Ment, President and CEO of the Andrus Center.

What major changes has your organization experienced over the past few years?
We have completed, as the lead partner, two mergers with other community agencies which have helped us to extend the breadth and depth of our programs. We marked a seamless CEO transition from a 28-year leader to an internal candidate selected a year before the actual changeover. We’ve created a successful fundraising effort that provides 3 percent of our annual operating budget. Finally, we developed a dynamic training and research arm (the Andrus Center for Learning and Innovation) that has helped us share our trauma-informed treatment model with over 80 organizations in the U.S. and around the world.
While the composition of our revenues has remained relatively stable over the past few years, due to the merger, we have seen a slight increase in fee for service income due to programs we absorbed that operate on that funding model. We are expecting some major shifting in public sector resource in response to the perilous New York State budget that has been badly affected by the decline in tax revenues from the financial services industry.

Can you elaborate on the in-house web-based training curriculum your organization developed for staff members? How does it work and what benefits does it have?
The system is still a work in progress. We are filming certain training sessions, creating video digital files, formatting them for usage and making them available to staff via our intranet website. A staff person would log in at any work station, view the training and then take a post-test online which would then be processed and registered with the training department. We have labeled this project “Andrus on Demand,” taking the lead from the video-on-demand services many enjoy in their homes on their televisions. In an organization with round-the-clock responsibility for our youngsters in care, we have staff working different shifts and at various locations. Having them all attend in-person trainings can be a difficult scheduling and logistical task. The on-demand concept would ease the problems and create opportunities to receive training at any time of day, at any location. It’s a win-win situation for all involved.

What is the most rewarding part of your job/being part of the organization?
I come here every day because I believe in our mission to help children and families thrive against the odds. To secure deep personal gratification at the same time as I enjoy continuous professional growth is rewarding beyond measure. I have been fortunate to celebrate good times and navigate bad times with a talented staff and truly committed Directors.

What do you think is the most pressing issue facing nonprofits like yours right now?
Instilling commitment in government and philanthropic entities to invest in children. Child-serving organizations like Andrus attract fewer donor dollars than animal charities! The competition for scarce resources is intense. Our country, both in the public and private sectors, has an amazing history of caring for our citizens but not a great appreciation for how much and how long it takes to reap the social benefits of supporting young and vulnerable children.

If you could ensure that the new administration would pass one policy proposal, what would it be?
An equitable proposal for universal health care with a single payer system.

What do you find to be most valuable about participating in the Listening Post Project?
The “one stop” opportunity to monitor the trends in not-for-profit work. There has been a maturational process for not-for-profits in understanding our responsibility to manage our operations by applying business strategies, especially long-term planning. Having the opportunity to contribute to and learn about the prevailing trends across the country has been a real benefit.

How has your organization used the project’s findings?
We have shared findings widely with our leadership staff and Board, particularly to inform our strategic planning. We have tested our own experience and ideas against prevailing findings to make sure our own assumptions hold up.

What topics would you like to see covered in future surveys?
1) The respective responsibilities of government and the philanthropic community in supporting not-for-profit work. 2) Organizational decision-making strategies to apply in times of tight resources, i.e., how we will establish priorities for what to keep and what to let go that will not damage our positions for the future.