Hallie Q. Brown Community Center

Hallie Q is an 86 year-old multi-service African-American Community Center serving the Summit-University area and surrounding St. Paul communities.  The organization operates five core program areas, with a focus on early childhood education and youth enrichment, basic needs (emergency food and clothing), and senior programming.

Hallie Q was founded at a time when St. Paul was still largely segregated, and African-American residents did not have the same access to resources as other community members.  Geographically, Hallie Q is located in the historic Rondo neighborhood—an African-American community of the 1920s-1960s that was decimated by the construction of I-94. Today, much of the organization’s work focuses on helping preserve the history and culture of Rondo, and ensuring that the community’s needs are being met in new and evolving ways.

When now-Executive Director Jonathan Palmer took over the organization seven years ago, the agency was in crisis. A number of their programs were deeply in the red, and funding sources and timing weren’t sustainable. Some funders came together to meet with the board and the YWCA to develop a sustainability plan. All of the organization’s processes needed a significant overhaul; at the time, there were no financial policies in place, no cost-benefit analyses had been done, and there was no cash flow projection process. They needed help.

Fortunately, Hallie Q found some one-time funding to get the operation together, but there was much work to be done. Around 2009—in the midst of the economic downturn—they connected with Propel Nonprofits (formerly Nonprofits Assistance Fund) for support. At first, Jonathan admits, the relationship was tenuous. While Propel Nonprofits provided lines of credit and worked with Hallie Q on a plan to pay them off, it was a “tough love relationship,” he said. “We weren’t financial people, and it was hard for us to understand what Propel Nonprofits was doing. We had some tough conversations in those early days.”

Over the next couple of years, the Hallie Q team worked their sustainability plan. Slowly, they were able to make some of the changes necessary to ensure they could continue serving the needs of their community members for years to come.  But in early 2015, they hit another crunch.

“We knew hiring an educational program director was what we needed—and we knew the position could generate a significant amount of income,” Jonathan told us. “But without an initial influx of cash in the form of gap financing, we weren’t going to be able to do it.”

“I remember when [Jonathan] came back after those couple of years,” Propel Nonprofits’ Janet Ogden-Brackett said. “We wanted to make sure we could make it a good and fruitful partnership for both of us—and we wanted him to understand what we were seeing.”

Both Jonathan and Janet remember the “a-ha” moment—a point of clarity when they realized they weren’t speaking the same language. On April 15, 2015, “I finally understood,” Jonathan said. “Janet learned what she needed to say so that we would understand, and in turn, I started to understand what she was explaining.”  Janet said, “He was so great and attentive—he just got it.”

After that conversation, the relationship improved significantly. Together, they put together a plan for a short-term loan for the new position, and worked through a comprehensive financial analysis. The loan term was six months—and was provided just the boost that was needed to bring on the new staff person and make the educational programs sustainable.

“My proudest moment was when Jonathan said to me, ‘I’m going to pay it off, but I’m going to do it in two payments. You know, to manage cash flow,’” Janet beamed.

“While some of the conversations had been tough, NAF had always been straightforward and honest,” Jonathan said. “Kate and Janet are upstanding people. I value integrity. So when we went back to them and talked about what we needed, they helped us start down the right road. It ended up being the best move we could’ve made.”

Today, Jonathan and Janet are in regular contact. “I’ll take my financial plans into Janet and ask her, ‘Does this make sense? Am I being realistic?’” Together, they’re working on an aggressive development plan, as well as future opportunities for partnerships and grants.  In addition to simply obtaining technical support, Jonathan says that working with Propel Nonprofits and establishing a sound financial history has also helped the organization secure financing in other ways. “Working with Propel Nonprofits has helped us be seen as a sound investment.”

When Jonathan reflects on the history of Hallie Q’s relationship with Propel Nonprofits, he’s appreciative. “Once I understood everything, I realized why the hard conversations had happened. They were necessary.” And when he considers what advice he’d offer other organization leaders considering working with Propel Nonprofits, he says, “The conversation may not go the way you’re expecting it to, but if you listen with an open mind, it will make sense and it will be the best decision you can make.”

To learn more about Hallie Q’s programs and how you can help, click here.

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