The Cedar Cultural Center

The Cedar Cultural Center—or “The Cedar”—is a nonprofit, eclectic music venue located in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis, which uses music as a means to promote intercultural appreciation and understanding. The Cedar is known for hosting a wide variety of programming—from music to spoken word to dance and community events.

Now in its 27th season, The Cedar has established deep roots in the community—and has sustained the operation through dynamic ebbs and flows.  In 2004, The Cedar decided to sunset some of its summer programming—a decision that led to unanticipated cash flow issues. That’s when they turned to Propel Nonprofits’ (formerly Nonprofits Assistance Fund) for the first time. “We were in a crunch,” outgoing executive director Rob Simonds told us. “We didn’t yet have enough of a reputation with our traditional bank partners, and the bridge loans that Propel Nonprofits provided were critical to keeping us going and getting us through that difficult period.”

At that time, Rob was a board member. In 2007, he took over as executive director of The Cedar. The next year, in 2008, Minnesota’s Legacy Amendment passed and wrote a 25-year tax increase into the state’s constitution. Legacy revenue began pouring into the state’s pool at a rate of nearly $300 million per year, and was dedicated to arts and culture in addition to clean water, parks and trails, and the outdoors. With arts and culture receiving 20% of the overall funds, suddenly The Cedar not only had new funding opportunities from the state, but a whole host of new restrictions and reporting requirements.  Rob knew they needed more than Propel Nonprofits’ workshops and training opportunities to get their finances in order.

“Their budget was growing, they were getting restricted grants—all of a sudden their infrastructure and their finance function had to get more sophisticated,” said Propel Nonprofits’ Curt Klotz. “They had to be accountable to their funders, but they also had strategic decisions to make in managing a more complex organization.” Curt joined The Cedar’s finance committee to help guide the organization through this new territory—not only by helping them meet reporting requirements, but also to help them better understand their true program costs and optimize their accounting infrastructure.

At Propel Nonprofits, we tend to preach the True Program Costs gospel—and The Cedar is a perfect example of the benefits an organization can realize by doing this important work. “There’s something really fundamental about the importance of understanding unappreciated or hidden costs in program work,” Rob said. “These costs really affect your organization. To be able to quantify them and figure out how to allocate different costs across different programs helps you understand their true impact—and that’s eye-opening.” (Special thanks to Rob for helping us build this True Program Costs eStudy in partnership with the Humphrey School’s Hubert Project!)

“The whole process and the result of it has had significant benefits to our organization—it teaches you a lot of things,” Rob continued. “Without Propel Nonprofits, this would be a much more expensive process—and it would be difficult to find another partner that is as specialized in working with the nonprofit sector. “

“The Cedar is a great example of a nonprofit that had a certain culture when they were smaller, and as they’ve grown, they’ve been able to keep their core values and their passion at the center of their work,” Curt said. “They realized they were bigger and needed to be more sophisticated, and they were able to raise their skill levels in service to their core mission.” He continued, “It’s the artist that doesn’t think they can be a manager, becoming a manager and then realizing they’re still an artist.”

As Rob reflects upon his experience at The Cedar and the relationship with Propel Nonprofits, he offers this advice to other nonprofit leaders:

“Look at the full breadth of what Propel Nonprofits has to offer—particularly in the area of uncovering true program cost strategies to assess how you’re doing your accounting. Use their resources. Curt and team have developed templates for accounting systems that are much more strategic and simple—and they’re free for nonprofits to use.”

He continued, “Without Propel Nonprofits’ partnership, we probably would’ve had to invest in finance consultants to get us where we needed to be. These deeper relationships are highly valuable and really significant for local nonprofits.”

Propel Nonprofits is proud to partner with The Cedar in helping create a sustainable financial model that enables them to bring people together through music and other multi-cultural artistic experiences. Curt and the rest of the team wish Rob the very best in his retirement years!

To learn more about The Cedar and to get tickets for an upcoming show, click here.

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