Friday, May 20, 2011

When Nonprofits Expand Their Reach, Governance Issues Deserve Attention

Chelsea Neighborhood Developers (CND) in Chelsea, Massachusetts, like many successful NeighborWorks organizations, is in the process of expanding geographically. As the expansion evolved, Executive Director Ann Houston and CND’s board of directors recognized the agency’s governance model would need to adapt.

Houston collaborated with Hilary Marcus, CND’s relationship manager at NeighborWorks America, to talk with peers and consultants while researching best practices in governance. You can see the results of their exploration in the report available on NeighborWorks' website.

CND's new governance model is still in the works. The authors note that many NeighborWorks organizations are facing expansion challenges and hope this report will spark discussion on this issue. The authors can be reached at and

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Shared Vision for Consumer Financial Capability

By Eileen Fitzgerald, Acting CEO, NeighborWorks America
Good partners, like NeighborWorks America and the Citi Foundation, share a common vision. We both believe in financial inclusion and economic empowerment for everyone. And we realize that while helping consumers build financial knowledge and skills is important, it doesn’t go far enough. Timely, relevant financial information needs to be coupled with ongoing coaching and access to appropriate financial products and services to help consumers convert financial knowledge into positive financial practices necessary to achieve long-term, sustainable results.   

The Citi Foundation has been a leader in championing this new financial capability approach, and NeighborWorks America has a long history of providing top-notch training to financial educators. Capitalizing on the strengths of NeighborWorks America, the Citi Foundation has made a $5 million grant to expand financial capability programs across the nation.
How will we get the job done? Quite simply by building the skills of more than 400 financial education practitioners. Equipped with the best training available in financial capability and coaching, practitioners will be better prepared to assist residents in low and moderate income communities who want to improve their financial situation. We are also strengthening and expanding the financial coaching programs of 31 best-in-class organizations across the U.S. through grants and a range of technical assistance support. 
Here is what we are setting out to achieve with the Citi Foundation: Helping people access and select safe and appropriate financial products and services and providing ongoing financial coaching that helps consumers work toward their financial goals over the course of their lives. Because results are important to us, the project will also employ new Success Measures data collection tools to measure how these financial capability programs change consumer financial attitudes, behaviors and resiliency over time. For over 15 years, we have collaborated with the Citi Foundation and are enthusiastic about this next phase of our work together. We anticipate thousands of Americans will become more skillful in managing their personal finances as a result of this dynamic partnership.  And we look forward to sharing the lessons learned across the field.

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Monday, May 9, 2011

I Bet You Don’t Know What Co-Housing Is!

Ming and Pemba Sherpa with their daughters:
Cheten and Chewang
Photo taken by Jon Shenton, marketing and communications
coordinator at Champlain Housing Trust
by Sara Varela,
Communications Specialist, Community Building and Organizing

Champlain Housing Trust (CHT), a NeighborWorks member, is located in northwestern Vermont. CHT is a community land trust that supports strong, vital communities. Here is an example of the type of work they do as reported by Julia Curry, co-op and community organizer at CHT.

"Ming and Pemba Sherpa came to Vermont from Nepal eighteen years ago, but life really changed when they discovered Champlain Housing Trust  in 2004. They were raising twin daughters, Cheten and Chewang, in a small one-bedroom apartment, so were happy to learn they could afford a spacious three-bedroom place from CHT for almost the same monthly rent as their previous place. Their long-term hope, though, was to buy a home.

They found that opportunity at East Village Co-housing in Burlington, where a community of 32 condominium owners live collaboratively. Co-housing balances the privacy of separate apartments with a commitment to interaction and sustainability.

When the Sherpa Family first looked into buying they were told they could not get the mortgage they needed, despite their good credit. Once they learned about CHT's shared equity program, though, things moved quickly. They met the requirements, got a mortgage with a bank that knows CHT’s program, and bought their townhouse less than a month later.

“There’s a lot that we like about living here,” Pemba comments. “The home is a good size and very energy-efficient. We work with other residents to grow a vegetable garden. I think it’s important that our daughters are learning where food comes from and what it takes to raise it.” “[It] feels more like life did in Nepal, because we are friends with our neighbors and do so much together. We have much more of a sense of community here and it feels safer for the girls, since we know our neighbors well,” Ming adds.

Residents of East Village cook some dinners together in the common area, meet periodically to manage the property, and get together informally in other ways. The values of sustainability and community are also evident in the location—with easy walking and bus access, to reduce car dependence—and the community’s choice to set more apartments at affordable prices than city regulations require. “Living here is sustainable and peaceful,” Pemba concludes. “It feels like family to us.”

As a demonstration of this sustainable mission, the co-housing community, the Champlain Housing Trust and the City of Burlington won the Home Depot Foundation’s 2010 Award for Excellence in Sustainable Community Development, a national award that recognizes the unique implementation of sustainability initiatives in Burlington, as exemplified by East Village Co-housing. Nine of the 32 homes at East Village are in Champlain Housing Trust’s shared equity portfolio, making them permanently affordable, and there are multiple “green” aspects of the development.

I was fascinated by the co-housing concept and thought I’d share this story here. For more information about the East Village Co-housing or to learn what co-housing is all about, click here: This is a great way to build community!

For more information about Champlain Housing Trust visit their website: