Amid record calls for help, Interfaith Family Services CEO champions diverse revenue streams

Leaders at Interfaith Family Services thought the number of crisis calls the nonprofit receives would slow down as the world returned to some kind of normalcy after the pandemic, but that never happened.

Interfaith provides transitional housing and support for families, particularly single mothers, who are either homeless or at-risk of homelessness because of a crisis. The nonprofit continues to see a record range of 1,500 to 2,000 monthly calls from clients needing rental assistance or transitional housing. At the same time, like many other charitable organizations across the country, Interfaith has struggled with staff vacancies.

The headcount is normally about 33 when it’s fully staffed, but the organization had between 10 to 12 openings this year, a challenge that forced it to rely on three to four temporary staff members and maintain a waiting list at its child care center to ensure the appropriate student-to-caretaker ratio.

“Economically, we’ve had to raise wages for both our staff and child care teachers just to make sure that we’re remaining competitive and we’re able to attract the right people, all while dealing with a record number of clients,” Interfaith CEO Kimberly Williams said. “It’s been a very challenging and disruptive year. Our focus moving forward is adjusting then stabilizing our team and then our services.”

Stabilizing the team not only means adding to the staff but also providing career growth opportunities. Nonprofits typically don’t offer opportunities for upward career advancement, Williams said, but Interfaith understands that today’s workers don’t stay in their positions forever and wants to be a conduit for their next role.

“We’re happy to be the Johns Hopkins of nonprofits, to provide you with the training and experience in leadership, strategic thinking, database and decision-making that will empower you to be an ideal candidate for the next organization,” Williams said. “We’re trying to be honest and realistic about people’s goals and dreams and provide a pathway for them to achieve them, whether that means doing so within Interfaith or doing it without.”

Williams spoke to the Dallas Business Journal about the record call volume at Interfaith, diversifying the nonprofit’s revenue sources and what funders need to understand about supporting an organization like hers.

What do you think is causing the continued record number of calls Interfaith receives?

Oddly, it’s the same thing that’s fueling our lack of staff. During the pandemic people were used to taking on all of these types of hustles to make ends meet, and folks got used to the flexibility. But that flexibility was coupled with things like the stimulus checks, eviction waivers and rent assistance.

Now the stimulus checks, rent assistance and the eviction waivers are gone, but people still want to have these flexible jobs that don’t provide benefits or sometimes even adequate earnings to make ends meet. Folks are really struggling with getting back into more stable routines in order to stabilize their income when they’ve been accustomed to doing things differently. Because of that, we were seeing a lot of people that “work for themselves” but are unable to make ends meet call for rent assistance or face eviction.

Even as we look to hire people, folks want a lot more flexibility that sometimes we can feasibly give them, so that makes it challenging. It’s one of those things where I don’t think the marketplace is recalibrating at a rate that allows us to meet our basic needs.

The last time we talked you mentioned the nonprofit saw a decrease in donations. Is that a trend Interfaith continues to see?

The nonprofit sector continues to be one of the fastest growing business sectors, and that means that there’s greater competition often for the same dollars. Because of that, we’re seeing a lot of the foundation revenue that we’ve relied on for grants continue to decrease. While we’re still getting support, they’re a little bit less than what we’ve gotten historically.

We’re having to rely on events and other ways to generate revenue. Our child care facility has been a big blessing to us because we’ve been able to generate revenue through there. But diversifying our revenue, just like with any other business or household, is a high priority as we move into the next five years. That’s another reason why we’re renting out space we don’t use during the day as often. Then we are just continuing to build our childcare center and think of different ways that we can generate revenue in addition to continuing to be compelling in terms of donor investments.

What do you wish funders understood about supporting an organization like Interfaith?

I wish that they understood the importance of a multi-year commitment. Often we get an infusion of funds at one particular point. But without, for instance, a three-year commitment or a five-year commitment, it doesn’t allow an opportunity for organizations to develop the capacity to replace those funds. Multi-year investment help organizations to create plans to either replace the fund or bring in new partnerships that will help them sustain programs beyond one large initial gift.  

The other thing is that I wish more donors would consider monthly gifts. We experience a big lull in donations during summer months, and that’s often when we’re serving the most clients, particularly in our child care program where we’re keeping school aged kids between 6:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. a day while their parents are working. Our expenses go up, and our donations go down during the summer. Monthly gifts would really help nonprofits stabilize their income all year round. 

You also mentioned in our previous conversation that Interfaith was in the beginning stages of starting a small business academy. Is that still an opportunity the nonprofit is looking to pursue?

The first phase of our small business academy is providing these rooms for rent. What we’re trying to do is make sure that we’re meeting the needs of our surrounding area and workforce. We have a lot of spaces that aren’t used during the day. We are providing meeting space rental and a podcast room that our clients and members of our community can access. Many people are running home-based businesses, and they need a place to meet. We have meeting rooms available for rent, and then we have a podcast space for those that want to start a podcast that’s equipped with microphone and sound insulation. We want to become a place that acknowledges the era of the workforce and provides access for people to work in whatever way makes sense to them. 

Once we start getting a steady flow of people utilizing [the space], we’re going to survey them and see what type of educational opportunities we could provide to enhance their ability to have a successful business. From there, our goal is to partner with some of our volunteers and even our corporate donors to help provide courses that meet those needs. Our goal is, number one, to create a community of small business owners that are utilizing our space and then utilize their feedback to determine how we can help them make their businesses more successful.

This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.

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